palpating for a cruciate injury

The cruciate ligament provides stability inside the knees and the back of the legs. Cruciate injury is one  of the most common hind end injuries for a dog. Rupturing these ligaments causing hind limb lameness, pain and often knee arthritis.

Damage to the cruciate ligament is most often caused by degradation of the ligaments due to age, obesity, poor physical condition, genetics, skeletal shape and dog breed. The meniscus toward the inside of the knee joint is often torn at the same time as the ligament.

A variety of treatments are available for this condition:

  • Surgery to help stabilize the knee
  • Conservative management (depends on the nature of the injury and the breed of dog)
  • Orthopedic braces for less severe cases

Symptoms of Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury

The most common sign of Cranial Cruciate Ligament Injury is limping. Most often the symptoms will show directly after exercising but in partial tears, symptoms may develop over a longer period of time. Unfortunately, 60-65% of dogs that have a torn cruciate ligament will also tear the other cruciate of the adjacent leg.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Decrease in activity and general level of energy
  • Swelling of fibrosis or scar tissue on the inside of the shin bone
  • Decreased range of motion in the knee joint
  • Decrease in muscle mass in injured leg (atrophy)

If any of these symptoms are present, a Veterinarian should examine the dog to see the extent of the injury. If the injury is a complete tear, the Veterinarian will be able to assess the damage through a series of movement tests. The instability caused by a torn ligament can rapidly cause degenerative joint disease in the knee joint.

Hydrotherapy is recognized as one of the best aids to rehabilitation for a cruciate tear as it allows the dog to exercise in a non weight bearing environment. This means that muscle can be built and/or maintained around the joint to support the weaker areas that will decrease the recovery time of the injury.

How Hydrotherapy Helps

  • Buoyancy helps with the rehabilitation of weak muscles and painful joints
  • Joints can be unloaded because of the buoyant properties of water
  • Buoyancy counteracts weight which reduces the pain
  • The viscosity of the water can assist in stabilizing unstable joints
  • The hydrostatic pressure of the water decreases pain perception
  • Relaxation of muscle tension and/or muscle spasm
  • Increased active range of motion in the water
  • Feeling of well-being due to release of endorphins
  • Reduction of frustration for dogs on cage rest or reduced exercise
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Improved muscle patterning and recruitment
  • Prevention of secondary complications
  • Improved cardiovascular fitness
  • Possible earlier return to normal function
  • Slowing of progression of degenerative disease processes
  • Improved quality of life