As in humans, osteoarthritis in dogs is associated with various clinical signs, including signs of pain, restrictions in joint mobility, and difficulties in undertaking activities of daily life such as stair climbing. Bearing this in mind, therapeutic care of these patients has 2 main objectives: alleviation of pain and improvement of joint function. In addition to classic, conservative pain management (eg, administration of NSAIDs), methods of physical therapy have become an important part of treatment of osteoarthritis. Many treatment options available for use in humans, such as electrotherapy, therapeutic ultrasonography, hydrotherapy, and movement therapy, are already frequently applied in animals.1 Nowadays, a combination of conservative pain modulation and physical therapy is considered a state-of-the-art treatment protocol.2,3 The purpose of physical therapy is to aid pain reduction and promote joint and limb function improvement. Given the large number of available physical therapy regimens, an individualized treatment program has to be applied to each patient on the basis of specific needs.
In the field of veterinary physical therapy, the selection of therapeutic procedures is often based on individual experience of the therapist or medical knowledge acquired from the study of humans. This is because controlled studies to investigate the efficacy of each procedure are lacking and because the knowledge of joint and muscle biomechanics in veterinary species is limited. Studies investigating the clinical outcome of physical therapy in nonhuman animals are especially rare. The therapeutic effects of electrotherapy as a method of physical therapy in dogs with osteoarthritis and rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament have been reported.4,a In another study,5 the GRFs of dogs treated with hydrotherapy after a lateral retinacular stabilization surgery because of rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament were significantly greater than GRFs in exercise-restricted dogs that did not undergo physical therapy. The effects of early intensive postoperative physical therapy on limb function after tibial plateau leveling osteotomy in dogs have been investigated.6 The dogs in that study were treated with physical therapy consisting of passive ROM and movement exercises and, after removal of sutures, training on an underwater treadmill. Compared with a control group of dogs that did not receive intensive postoperative physical therapy, treated dogs had significantly greater extension and flexion of the osteotomized femorotibial joint. A study7 of the effects of rehabilitation treatment options after fibrocartilaginous embolism in 75 dogs revealed that hydrotherapy performed immediately after the initial diagnostic and clinical evaluation had a major positive influence on the recovery rate. Controlled physical therapy can have beneficial effects in dogs with neurologic diseases. Dogs with suspected degenerative myelopathy that received intensive physical therapy had significantly longer survival times, compared with the survival times of dogs that received moderate or no physical therapy.8 The effects of standardized movements (passive stifle joint bending, straight limb raising, and dural stretch exercise) during physical therapy exercises for mobilization of lumbar spinal nerves and the dura mater in dogs have been studied.9 The movement standardization was done by use of a goniometric control, and the movement therapy had measurable effects on nerve roots L4 to L7 and on the dura mater in the T13 and L1 segments.
Another problem that should not be underestimated is the fact that most studies investigating canine biomechanics have been limited to assessments of healthy dogs during walking10 and trotting11–13 or were performed to evaluate surgical and medical treatments.14–18 To the authors’ knowledge, there is little information regarding joint and muscle function in various physical activities, such as walking on inclined or declined slopes or walking over low-level obstacles (eg, cavaletti). Only 4 studies19–21,b have been conducted to assess differences in movement patterns during performance of active exercises in dogs. Swimming causes a significantly greater flexion of the hip, stifle, and tarsal joints, compared with flexion during walking.19 That finding, coupled with the fact that body mass changes in relation to water depth, confirms the assumption that purposeful movement on an underwater treadmill leads to an improvement of the ROM with a lower loading of the joints. By use of kinematic and kinetic motion analyses of the active exercise of wheelbarrowing, it is known that the duration of stance and swing as well as step length decreases and the PFz increases, compared with findings during normal walking. Kinematic analysis revealed significantly greater extension of the shoulder and carpal joints and an increase in elbow joint flexion; conversely, flexion of the shoulder joint and extension of the elbow and carpal joints decreased.
Similar analyses were performed during so-called dancing (ie, movement forward and backward while the dog's forelimbs are physically raised so that it stands solely on its hind limbs). During dancing, the PFz and the vertical impulse decreased. Compared with findings during normal walking, forward dancing was associated with decreased flexion and lower ROM of the hip and tarsal joints; reverse dancing resulted in increased extension of the hip joint and flexion of the stifle joint. These data19,b were crucial in the development of adequate physical therapy programs for dogs with hip dysplasia because they provided therapists with useful information about the changes of the musculoskeletal system during special exercises, which should be considered if a therapy program is planned.
In another study20 of movement patterns and physiotherapeutic exercises, the 2-D kinematic analysis of walking and sit-to-stand motion in dogs was validated. Because that study was focused more on the technical aspects, there were no conclusions regarding the biomechanics of the sit-to-stand motion, compared with findings of the aforementioned studies. Peak vertical GRF acting on the forelimbs of dogs during landing after jumping over an obstacle has been investigated.21 The GRFs during landing after jumping differed significantly in relation to the jump height. Furthermore, factors (eg, body weight, breed, and sex) that influenced that force were identified.
Physical therapy involving active exercises is particularly important in the treatment of osteoarthritis; the main goal of movement therapy is to establish specific exercises that will strengthen the locomotory musculature and improve the biomechanical function of joints. To evaluate the usefulness of active exercises in the treatment of osteoarthritis, the biomechanics of joints during different movement patterns must be investigated first. Therefore, the purpose of the study reported here was to assess fore- and hind limb joint kinematics in dogs during walking on an inclined slope (uphill), on a declined slope (downhill), or over low obstacles on a horizontal surface (obstacle exercise) and compare findings with data acquired during unimpeded walking on a horizontal surface. It has been suggested that the joint kinematics of the fore- and hind limb during execution of these types of exercises differ considerably from findings during normal walking. Our hypothesis was that flexion and extension of joints as well as the temporospatial characteristics of the joint angulations would undergo major changes during uphill and downhill walking and obstacle exercise, compared with joint kinematics during normal unimpeded walking.
Ground reaction force
Peak vertical force
Range of motion
Symmetry indices of PFz
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