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Strains - Muscular Injuries Series Part 2A

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

A strain is the most common muscular injury your dog could sustain, so common in fact that your dog probably already has one!

What is a strain?

Commonly referred to as a “pulled muscle” a strain is a tear to the muscle or tendon caused by overstretching or overloading.

What are the two types of muscle strain? How do they occur?

Chronic – Muscle is like an elastic band. If you constantly stretch and stretch it, the band will become weaker and eventually snap. This is known as Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). Prolonged overuse and repetitive movements create microtears within the muscle and/or tendon. Damage to the muscle occurs overtime and can be caused by a range of repetitive activities including jumping up, slipping on laminate/tiled flooring, activities of daily living and training exercises in sports, such as wing wraps (agility) or box turns (flyball).

Acute – Strains are most likely to occur during sudden acceleration or deceleration that the body is unprepared for, such as chasing after a squirrel/ball or slipping on laminate flooring. They also occur due to a direct trauma, such as a sudden impact, movement, or twist. The muscle fibres become overloaded as they are forced to over contract and stretch, reaching a breaking point causing an instant tear.

What are the 3 grades of muscle strain?

Grade 1 - A mild strain which causes damage to individual muscle fibres (less than 10% of fibres). It usually requires about 3 weeks rest to heal.

Grade 2 - Damage is caused to significantly more muscle fibres (up to 50%). This can cause severe pain, swelling and bruising. Will usually requires about 6 weeks of rest depending on the severity of the injury. However, if your dog re-injures itself before the injury has healed, the process can take several months.

Grade 3- This is a complete rupture of a muscle or tendon often resulting in full loss of use. This type of strain requires surgery to repair it and the rehabilitation time starts at about 3 months.

What are the symptoms/ signs of a strain?

· Sharp persistent pain – Your dog may yelp or whine in response

· Lameness

· Not weight bearing/ walking normally

· Weakness

· Stiffness

· Bruising and haemotomas

· Inflammation

· Unable to do certain activities i.e. go up/down stairs, jump in/out or car, training exercises in agility/ flyball

· Changes to behaviour - showing signs of depression or aggression and not eating normally.

It is very hard to establish if your dog has a strain as many of the symptoms listed above can be signs of a variety of different musculoskeletal issues. These symptoms can be very debilitating and can have a negative effect on your dog’s quality of life. Veterinary advice should always be sort to rule out any other injuries, health issues or conditions.

What are the 3 stages of injury repair?

Stage 1: Acute (Protection)

Occurs immediately after the muscle has been injured and can last 3-5 days. Inflammation occurs at the site of injury, there is bleeding into the tissue and bruising can sometimes be seen. This results in pain, swelling, heat, redness and loss of function/ range of motion. This inflammatory response protects the injury, prevents further damaged, removes damaged tissue and initiates the healing process.

Treatment - Using the method P.R.I.C.E. shortly after the injury occurs will help to control inflammation and pain.

· Protect – to prevent further injury

· Rest - to allow for healing

· Ice - to reduce swelling and provide some pain relief

· Compress – to help limit swelling and movement

· Elevate - to reduce swelling and provide some pain relief

Depending on the injury Veterinary referral is always advised as they can determine the full extent of the injury and whether there are any further complications.

Stage 2: Sub-acute (Repair)

This can last up to approximately 6 – 8 weeks as the body begins to repair the torn muscle fibres and create new scar tissue. The sub-acute stage is a crucial period as the area is prone to re-injury due to the weakness and instability of the muscle fibres. Your dog will start to feel better, overdo it and re-strain the area. Your job as the owner is to ensure this does not happen. This is not always easy especially if you have a lively and energetic dog.

Treatment - Once the acute phase of injury has passed the flowing treatment can be undertaken.

· Massage - canine massage therapy can be very beneficial as it can help reduce muscular tension, speed up recovery, improve blood flow and lymphatic drainage, reduce pain, and remodel restrictive scar tissue.

· Heat - can be applied to increase blood flow, easy pain, low-grade-inflammation and stiffness.

· Gentle exercise – to restore range of motion and strength to the muscle injury.

If inflammation and pain continue throughout this phase, then your Vet may prescribe medication such as Non-Steroidal Anti Inflammatory (NSAIDs).

Stage 3: Chronic (Ongoing repair and remodeling)

Begins at about 6 weeks post injury. The muscular injury is well on its way to healing as the collagen fibres within the scar tissue will begin to align, enabling the muscle to withstand the stress and forces of daily activities. Yet, the dense network of collagen fibres stiffen, restricting and shortening the muscle’s flexibility by up to 50%. This hinders the slide and glide action of the muscle fibres which can result in episodes of re-strain. Symptoms will include on/off lameness or presentation of initial symptoms. Pain however should be significantly reduced or be absent unless the muscle is overused or at its full stretch.

Treatment - The aims of treatment through this period is to restore function, improve mobility and flexibility and regain strength in the follow ways.

· Massage – to help restore function, remodel scar tissue, improve mobility and flexibility.

· Exercise - gradually work up to higher levels of exercise, provide rest between intense activities and provide plenty of fluids and proper nutrition.

Strains - Part 2B will explore the following

· Your dog’s natural defences against strains

· How to prevent a strain

· How your dog heals itself and the role scar tissue plays

· Factors that influence recovery

· The benefits of massage

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