Animal Chiropractic | Chiropractic Care for Dogs
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Chiropractic care for Dogs

Understanding the cause of joint restrictions that lead to pain in dogs.

The case history makes up 95% of the treatment package when seeing a patient. If one does not understand what caused the lameness and pain in the patient, then it is fair to say that whatever caused the problem in the first place will merely reoccur once the dog returns home.

By understanding the cause of the complaint one can also understand where the primary area of discomfort will be and focus on that, rather than knocking out fires by treating the secondary complaints that arose from the primary.

Here are some of the main causes to joint restrictions and soft-tissue inflammation (most notably of the intervertebral discs):

  • Rushing through confined spaces, for example burglar-bar doors.
    When dogs are indoors and they hear something exciting outside, there is no stopping them getting outdoors. If they have to pass through a narrow space to get outside, they will not take it slow, but rather wiggle through this narrowing with haste, and this causes serious joint restrictions which naturally affect the adjoining discs. Most of the time the lower lumbar spine is primarily affected, but one should also look at the lower cervicals and upper thoracics. Treat these areas accordingly if the case history of passing through narrow spaces is linked to the painful sites, and then please inform the owner to close the narrow spaces that lead outdoors. (Building a doggy-door with the flap opened may be an alternative.) These narrow spaces could also be under beds or furniture that are close to the ground. If there is thunder, for example, the dog may creep its way under these narrow spaces and then battle to come out, inflicting damage to themselves on the way out or in.

  • Not lying flat when sleeping.
    Some dog beds are in doughnut form, where the centre is flat and the sides are raised. This unnatural kink in the neck when sleeping restricts the vertebral joints. Look at lower cervicals and upper thoracics to treat, and give something internally to assist healing of discs, as this localized pressure on the discs results in excruciating pain in a short period of time.

  • Chewing on tennis balls and elastic toys such as congs.
    In terms of misaligning the entire spine, pelvis and hips, this cause precedes the others as the pain is located throughout the mentioned structures and their adjoining soft tissue. Chewing an elastic object allows it to bounce back/recoil within the dogs mouth, and after doing this chewing long enough, the tempero-mandibular/jaw joint becomes restricted through the unnatural hyper-extension of the joint. The asymmetry of the TMJ affects the first cervical vertebrae by tilting it and locking it in an unnatural position. The spine is a constantly moving structure, just as a tree moves when it is healthy and then becomes rigid when it dies. The movement of the spine as a whole is to maintain symmetry; its natural space so that the body may always be within its optimal position should the need for the “fight or flight” response kick in. The locking up of the TMJ and the first cervical vertebrae stops this natural “swing” or homeostatic balance of the spine. What is noted in such patients is misalignment of the sacro-iliac joints of the pelvis. To move such sturdy joints would normally require the impact of, say a vehicle, but what is happening is that the dogs skeleton as a whole is shifting to accommodate its natural movement that has been blocked at C1 and the TMJ. With the SI joints, the hips also become misaligned. The animals find it difficult to sit down in a fluidic motion, and what awaits the practitioner is a disaster everywhere along the topline of the animal. If the history has a correlation to biting into toys with an elastic give, then treat the TMJ as this is the primary, and inform the owner to remove their toys. Some dogs also chew blankets, for example, out of boredom, and this incessant unnatural act also restricts the TMJ. In many cases biting into toys is an activity to keep the dog busy so that it does not get bored. What is suggested is regular walks that the animals can anticipate, which will lift their spirits and prevent boredom from setting in.

  • Diet
    Lack of adequate nutrition affects the muscle fibers, which in turn pull on the vertebrae to which they are attached, causing joint restrictions. I don’t know why, but in such cases the area to be mostly affected is the upper thoracics (the withers area of the horse.)

  • Physical trauma
    This cause of joint restrictions and disc damage within the dog speaks for itself, however there are underlying factors that one is not always aware of when treating the patient. The first factor is the shock to the system from the sudden and unexpected trauma. The state of shock has a crippling effect, and what is meant by this, is that if the shock state is not released, the animals body can remain in a rigid state, which does not allow the body to relax so that it may heal. As an example, a Dachshund was seen that received a kick in the vicinity of its right pectoral region. The shock wave, or follow-through of the kick impacted the mid thoracic spine. Medication for inflammation and pain helped only for a few days. When the dog was seen too eight days after the attack, the pain was present with every movement that it took. This pain arose from the highly inflamed discs at the mid thoracic region, and it was obvious that the animal was still in shock. The point to make, is that the shock from physical trauma can hold the body in a rigid state, not allowing it to relax so that the body may heal itself. The second factor to physical trauma is what the shock wave of the impact does to the internal organs. (As in the case of the Dachshund above, if you are kicked by something that is five times your size, no doubt your body will also be susceptible to shock waves – the force of the impact will not stop at the skeletal and muscular system, but will follow through this defense system.) Please consider asking if the patient is lethargic and gets easily tired, as if the shock wave from the trauma affects the heart and its surrounding vessels for example, the patients gait will be retarded due to the compromised internal organs. This pulling themselves forwards places strain on the already compromised muscular and skeletal system, which are unlikely to heal before the internal organs are stabilized.

  • Intake of noxious chemicals/poisons
    The cause of joint restrictions through the intake of substances that do not agree with the body is through the disruption of the afferent and efferent nerve communication loop. If the harmful agent settles over the brain area, it creates a “flat” spot over this area, which directly impacts the area of the body which correlates to this part of the brain. Look out for restricted joints/movement in animals that have taken in poison. (An example of a noxious intake is inhaling a strong detergent that has been used to clean floors. Another example is eating compost that was still “raw.”)

  • Caesarian birth
    The advantage of being born naturally is being compressed through the birth canal, which aligns everything in the body as it should. As a precaution, it would be advisable to assess dogs that have not been born the natural route to see if the spine has been aligned properly, especially the first cervical vertebrae.

  • The animal taking on the complaint of the owner
    Before one shoot down this cause of joint restrictions and disharmony within the animal, understand that the animals have one trait that we Humans lack, and that is unconditional love – they care about their owners more than what they care about themselves. From this perspective the animals focus on others, and not just themselves, giving them insight as to what is happening to their beloved owners. The animals then take on the owners disharmony and make it their own. In such cases one needs to treat the owner for the animal to get better.

Listed above are some of the causes of joint restrictions resulting in pain in dogs. What assists the treatment protocol is the understanding of what caused the disharmony, and what impact it had on the patient. This understanding allows the practitioner to focus the treatment modality with more surety and certainty.