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Strains - Muscular Injuries series Part 2B

Updated: Feb 21, 2023

In part 2A I talked about how strains are the most common muscular injury your dog could sustain, the 3 different grades, the symptoms and signs of a strain and the 3 stages of injury repair. In this blog you will discover how your dog naturally defends itself against soft tissue damage, how to prevent injury, the importance of scar tissue, factors that influence recovery and the benefits of canine massage.

How does my dog’s body naturally defend itself against muscles damage?

Your dog’s muscles have two types of sensory nerve endings (proprioceptors) which control movement and prevent muscles from over-stretching.

Muscle Spindle - senses stretch and the speed of stretch. It is situated within the belly of the muscle and coils around its entire length. When your dog stretches its front legs out in front of them the muscle spindle will sense when the muscle is at full length. When this happens, it triggers a fast reflex reaction preventing the muscle fibres from over-stretching.

Golgi Tendon Organ - senses change in muscle tension. It is in the area of the tendon which attaches to the muscle. When the muscle contracts, it tenses the tendons. If the tendon is under too much tension the Golgi tendon organ will prevent the muscle from creating any force. This is an automatic reflex which protects against muscle damage.

How can I prevent my dog from getting a strain?

Warm up - Before any form of exercise it is essential that your dog is given time to warm up its muscles. Allowing your dog to jump straight out of the car and run off at the start of their walk significantly increases their risk of sustaining a muscular injury. Walking your dog for 10 minutes on lead at the start of exercise will reduce this risk.

Cool down - Cooling down after exercise is just as important as warming up. It brings your dog’s body back to a resting state by lowering their heart rate and body temperature. It also promotes recovery. Walking your dog on a loose lead for 10 minutes after their exercise has finished will help reduce the risk of injury.

Weather - Cold, wet weather will hinder the ability of your dog’s muscles to warm up adequately, resulting in them being more prone to injury. Consider a longer warm up time and wearing a dog coat. Similarly, if your dog gets wet, ensure you dry them off thoroughly before they catch a chill and keep them warm.

Flooring - Flooring such as tiles, wooden and laminate can cause your dog to slide and slip. Young dogs are highly likely to injure a muscle/s as they try and run over this type of flooring (acute strain). Similarly elderly and arthritic dogs are likely to suffer repetitive microtraumas (chronic strain). Consider using rubber backed mats or putting runners down to help your dog move around your house more freely and safely.

Chase games - Ball launchers or chuck-its should be avoided at all costs! Chasing after a ball at high speed and then breaking hard, twisting or leaping into the air to catch a ball puts your dog at high risk of sustaining an acute strain. Not to mention the repetitive nature of the game can cause chronic strains. If your dog likes playing with a ball ensure you play on a surface such, as sand and grass. Alternatively, hide the ball for them to find or roll the ball gently along the ground for them to fetch.

Training - If your dog competes in a dog sport such as agility or flyball you may wish to consider the following. The length of time and the number of repetitions spent on practicing a skill, height of jumps, warm up and cool down, level of difficulty, your dog’s level of fitness and rest and recovery time aloud between each training session.

How does my dog heal itself? What is Scar Tissue?

When a dog strains a muscle the ends of the muscle fibres become torn. When this happens the fibres bleed, forming a blood matrix (scaffold). This anchors the two torn ends together. At the same time satellite cells (found in the muscle tissue) are stimulated to divide. Once divided, the satellite cells then fuse with injured muscle fibres to regenerate and repair them. Collagen cells are also produced to bind the torn muscle fibres together. This is known as scar tissue and is a vital part of the initial healing process.

However, too much bleeding can lead to excessive amounts of scar tissue forming. This is a common occurrence. Scar tissue does not all run in the same direction as the muscle fibres and is not as elastic. As a result, the scar tissue will restrict the muscles natural movement by up to 50% and could re-strain. Imagine breaking the stem off a wine glass. You use strong super glue to attach the pieces back together however, the glass now has a weakness and will inevitably break again.

Factors that influence recovery

· Severity of the injury and the degree of tissue damage

· How early the injury was identified

· Ending of activity – dog immediately stopped or allowed to keep playing/training

· Rest and recovery time allowed

· Time dog restarts exercise/ training

· Treatment provided to assist healing

· Age of dog

· Pre-exceeding health conditions/ issues

What are the benefits of Canine Massage?

Once the strain is no longer in the acute phase of injury (after 3-5 days post injury), massage is very beneficial for the following reasons

  1. Canine massage is the best form of rehabilitation for strains as it addresses rather than masks the problem.

  2. Therapists who are members of the Canine Massage Guild have been taught the art of palpation and are able to pinpoint the exact area of the muscle strain. Strains do not show up on x-rays or MRI scans.

  3. Massage is required to break up scar tissue and remodel it so that the fibres are positioned in the same direction as the muscle fibres. Thereby improving mobility and flexibility and making your dog less prone to re-injury.

If you have any questions about strains or are concerned that your dog maybe harbouring an injury then please get in touch.

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