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Physiotherapy for Performance Enhancement

The sheer number of repetitive forces that sporting animals put through their bodies on a regular basis can, understandably, result in areas of increased tone and tension throughout muscle groups. The specific muscles affected are dependent on discipline and individual, however common areas of tightness in sporting animals include the shoulders, back and hamstrings. Over time, such areas can become increasingly tight and strained, causing physical restrictions in the animal’s movement as well as potentially causing behavioural changes, such as a reluctance to perform. In order to alleviate such restrictions, it is advisable to get regular checks from a qualified physiotherapist for your sporting animal.

This allows restricted tissues to be loosened, as well as ensuring that muscles are given the opportunity to develop in a way which gives your animal the support required to carry out its discipline most effectively, reducing the risk of injury.




The key word in the above sentence is opportunity. Physiotherapists can make huge differences in tissue quality and muscle tone which can provide great foundations for top quality muscle to be built on. However, this is where your commitment to improving your animal’s performance comes in. Significant differences in your animal’s performance will only be seen if your employ an appropriate and regular exercise programme, set by your physiotherapist. It is the repetitive use of muscles in a controlled manner which will allow correct build-up of muscle. In short, regular physiotherapy sessions will benefit your animal but it is the work between appointments which will make the greatest difference.



I can appreciate there may be some confusion as to what conditioning work entails, and this really does vary from animal to animal. However common misconceptions that time consuming exercises must be performed daily can be dismissed. In fact, performing exercises too frequently can cause over stretching or working of the muscles, causing pain and triggering an opposing effect. Performing a variety of exercises 2-3 times weekly can be sufficient to provide visible changes which can be recognised in quality of work. It is important to remember that changes can take several weeks or months to become noticeable, however commitment to an exercise programme should serve the most long-lasting results in a sufficient amount of time.


Benefits of physiotherapy for performance enhancement include:


INCREASED MUSCULAR STRENGTH

Increasing the strength of muscles means that your animal is physically more capable of performing the task at hand. Not only do muscles have more power to perform a task, but the muscle can work for longer before lactic acid build up occurs due to muscle fatigue.

Benefits of increased muscle strength in performance may show through:

  • Jumping higher

  • Covering more ground

  • Increased speed

  • Holding an outline for prolonged periods

  • Smoother transitions between gaits



Not only can increased muscle strength improve performance directly, but it can increase the longevity of performance. Stronger muscles give your animal the tools it needs to support its body through high intensity exercise – reducing the risk of injury. Increased resilience of muscles allows protection of delicate structures in the body which undergo a lot of stress through activity, meaning that the effect of slips, trips and falls may be minimized in some circumstances.


INCREASED RANGE OF MOTION

Increased muscle strength, alongside specific targeted exercises, also facilitates an increase in range of motion (ROM) of both the limbs and the spine. Fit and healthy animals should, in theory, have a fantastic joint ROM, however sometimes due to oversights developing into habit, full ROM is not used as frequently as it should be. By performing exercises which require an animal to use its full joint ROM, we encourage increased use of

such in day-to-day training and therefore allow for improved performance during competitions. Increased ROM can be present through:

  • Increased stride length

  • More fluid movements

  • Covering more ground

  • Increased ease of weaving

  • Clearing jumps

  • Sharper turns


ROM and muscle strength tend to come hand in hand. Naturally, using a joint’s full ROM requires more muscle activation, increasing muscle strength. As muscle strength increases, the animal will be more inclined to use their full ROM and so on and so forth. By performing exercises aimed at one benefit, improvements will take place in other aspects – isn’t it great when it all comes together?!


PROPRIOCEPTION

Proprioception is the awareness of the position and movement of the body. For many reasons including repetitive training regimes, a lack of enthusiasm, or even over excitation for an activity, our animals can neglect to think about placement of their limbs when working. This could be seen through:

  • Rattling/knocking poles

  • Tripping frequently

  • Struggling to make tight turns

  • Consistently missing contact zones on agility equipment

A variety of exercises are available in order to re-educate our animals on their limb placement. Through getting them to think about where they are placing their limbs in exercises, more of this awareness will be carried in everyday life, making for more efficient training. Using audible and tactile stimuli we can increase an animal’s awareness until it is able to do so for itself. Eventually, this should mean less penalties!


The aim of this blog was to highlight the true benefits that physiotherapy programmes can have for performance. There is no hard and fast answer which is why treatment plans must be tailored to each individual animal; simply following a premade exercise plan won’t necessarily challenge the target areas of your own animal. Once formulated, physiotherapy programmes can really make the difference between staying at your current level and moving up a grade/class/height. I’m willing to commit to getting the best possible performance, are you?

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