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Canine Physiotherapy

Nina Clare
MSci AdvCertVPhys CertEdVPT DipSAHydro MIRVAP
Registered and Fully Insured ninaclarevp@gmail.com

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Importance of idiomotion and varying exercise

by Nina Clare

Guide Dogs for the Blind have a very high percentage of osteoarthritis

This statement was very interesting from Martin Fischer's lecture "Dogs in Motion". My gut reaction was to look at the genetic background. But could it be more likely the answer lies in the way guide dogs move?

Research has shown that when dogs are walking or running, the strain is not equally distributed over the joint surfaces.

There are three things that I would like for you to note in the above pictures
(1) During locomotion, there are large areas which do not come into contact with each other
(2) The areas which do not come into contact with each other are extremely similar in walk and trot
(3) The risk zone for osteoarthritic lesions is marked as the black areas. This risk zone lies outside the range of motion during locomotion and is found in the area bordering the regions of the joint which are not subjected to strain.

Another interesting study in Fischer's lecture looked at the hip joint and the size of areas that came into contact under increasing loads.

The results showed that at 50% of body weight stress, only 30% of the joint socket is involved in load bearing compared to just 15% of the ball (femur) head.

Even when the loads reach four times body weight (400% - this would happen in gallop) just 65% of the socket and 30% of the ball head (femur) are involved in load-bearing.

So why is this research important and relevant?

It all relates to how joint cartilage is nourished. As you can see from the picture below, the cartilage does not come in contact with blood flow but is situated on the bone within the hermetically sealed joint. The only way joint cartilage can receive nutrients is through the synovial fluid.

Nutrients are pushed into the cartilage from the synovial fluid through movement and loading. As the bones move, the joint fluid gets swished around and pushed into the cartilage. If there is no pressure, the nutrients are not pushed into the cartilage and therefore the area of the cartilage does not get as much nourishment. When linking joint nourishment with the research, it becomes even clearer how important full use of joint range of motion is to prevent and minimize osteoarthritis.

The research means that during normal locomotion (walk, trot, gallop) the dog is not using the full range of the joint and the joint is not fully nourished.

The next obvious question is, how to get the dog to use their range of motion more fully to better nourish the joints. In humans, the answer would be yoga or pilates. In animals, the answer is motion that does not propel the dog forward (= idiomotion).

Idiomotion could be the dog scratching, digging, performing play-bow, jumping, landing and other natural movements. So the next time you see your dog digging up your garden, be glad they are using their joint range of motion more fully.

So coming back to the original question about guide dogs. Guide dogs' job requires them to perform the same movements each day to help their owners. As the dogs' joints do not go through their full range of motion, it would explain why they have such a high percentage of osteoarthritic changes.

Take home message:
It is vitally important in order to have a healthy joint to load the joint across the whole surface area. Locomotion (walk, trot, gallop) only partially loads the joint at specific areas, so additional movement (scratching, bowing, digging) is required to load the rest of the joint surface.

This was very interesting and relevant to my profession as a canine physiotherapist and hydrotherapist. Exercise prescription focuses on muscle strength building and flexibility. The flexibility exercises are designed to increase the dogs' range of motion and to increase joint loading. The research proves just how important the varied exercises are for the long term health of the joints.

Fischer, M. & Lilje, K. (2014). Dogs in Motion. 2nd ed. Dortmund: VDH Services Gmbh. 72-80.
Fischer, M. (2018) Dogs in Detail: Dogs in Motion. Seminar. 2nd September 2018.

(c) Salmelin Clare