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check out rehab (therapy!)

If you’ve had orthopedic surgery, you know how important postoperative rehabilitation is. But did you know that the same goes for our canine and feline friends? In addition to shortening recovery times, physical therapy can help decrease pain while increasing muscle strength, mobility and flexibility.

Who benefits? Like pet parents, physical therapy can help pets who have undergone orthopedic surgeries — from procedures to correct ruptured cranial cruciate ligaments, to total hip replacements, and any surgical bone fracture repair. But physical therapy isn’t just for surgical cases — pets with neurologic conditions like intervertebral disc disease or vestibular disease can also benefit from regular physical therapy, as will patients suffering from arthritis or those who are overweight. Rehab therapy can also benefit elderly pets. Veterinary physical therapy has taken a cue from human medicine, where physical therapy has been used to benefit our health for centuries. What started out as simple range-of-motion exercises and massage has evolved to include modern treatments like hydrotherapy and therapeutic lasers

Here’s a closer look at a few other methods:

Air apparent: If your pet has been referred to a facility for physical therapy, the first thing you might see when you enter are balance balls. These large, inflatable balls (often seen in human gyms and health clubs) are used to increase your pet’s balance and coordination, encourage weight bearing, and strengthen weak muscles. You may also see balance boards that are used for the same reasons.

Dive right in: Just as it does for humans, swimming allows your pet to use several muscle groups in a low-impact setting, thereby minimizing the stress on joints. Many veterinary physical therapy facilities have warm water pools or underwater treadmills that allow your pet to exercise with some resistance.

See the light: Therapeutic lasers are a relatively new modality for decreasing pain and inflammation. They operate at specific frequencies, using light to accelerate the body’s natural healing process. Therapeutic lasers have a direct effect at the cellular level, where they stimulate tissue repair while decreasing inflammation and swelling. They can be used for a wide range of conditions, from post-operative pain to alleviating discomfort associated with arthritis. 

Aid accessories: In the period immediately following surgery, your pet may need help standing up, and carts and slings can lend a hand. Consult your pet’s physical therapist to get a good fit and for help learning to use these and other rehabilitative aids properly.

Do your homework: The most important part of physical therapy will probably happen when you leave the doctor’s office. Your pet’s physical therapist will instruct you on things you will need to do at home. Passive range-of-motion exercises as well as hot- or cold-packing sore areas, will likely be prescribed to help your pet through her recovery. Following doctor’s orders will give your pet the best “leg up” to get back on her feet.

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