“Okay… I admit it. When it came to physical therapy and rehabilitation medicine for animals, I was a bit of a cynic. During my years in veterinary school, it was not a recognized discipline, and it is not commonly used in my area of specialization – critical care and espiratory medicine.
However a few years ago I had a personal experience that changed
my perspective. While joyfully sprinting out at the farm, my whippet Sophie slammed her hindlimb. In one horrible moment, she created a catastrophic, open comminuted distal femur fracture, which had both blood and stifle joint fluid oozing from the wound. The cutting-edge surgery… that reconstructed her femur and stabilized her stifle was just the beginning of healing. Recovery included weeks of physical therapy, ...that gradually helped to restore mobility and strength to the femur/stifle area.
I saw firsthand, many different modalities, from therapeutic ultrasound, to underwater treadmills to cavaletti rails. But, more important, I began to understand the skill, dedication, and gentleness of the veterinaryphysical therapist.
I was reminded of this incident this week when a good friend described an experience with her own dog. Her handsome athletic Australian Shepherd, Sirius, had been exhibiting lameness in one frontlimb for some time; the diagnosis indicated a ligament injury. When rest, which is difficult to enforce in a rambunctious young dog, did not resolve the lameness, the dog was referred to a physical therapist.
Massage and laser therapy were part of the initial therapeutic plan, and one visit resulted in significant improvement. My friend was amazed by the extensive time the therapist took to evaluate Sirius, the number of modalities available, and the level of expertise shown. She is committed to following through with future visits, and there is hope that this young dog can gradually return pain free to his usual activity levels.
I now realize that physical therapy and rehabilitation medicine are rapidly becoming state of the art care for veterinary patients. The days of performing surgery and sending the patient home with just a follow up visit scheduled are behind us. Physical therapy is a facet of veterinary medicine that can improve recovery and mobility of our patients, while concurrently relieving pain. In human medicine, physical therapy is a part of the standard of care for a spectrum of postoperative patients as well as nonsurgical patients such as those with intervertebral disk disease or temporomandibular joint disease.
Thanks to my experience with Sophie, Sirius, and other patients, I realize physical therapy and rehabilitation medicine offer unique opportunities to improve quality of life and surgical outcomes for our patients. As this specialty continues to develop…, its place in small animal practice will continue to increase in significance.”