Manual therapies for pets, such as massage, range of motion (ROM) exercises, and joint mobilization, can help decrease pain, improve mobility, boost the immune system, increase circulation, and promote relaxation. Our Central Houston Animal Hospital team offers these techniques to improve your pet’s wellbeing, and we provide information about each treatment.

Massage therapy for pets

Massage therapy uses specific hand movements to manipulate soft tissues to restore or maintain health, and can be used as part of a rehabilitation plan or to provide a relaxing experience for your pet. All pets can benefit from massage’s relaxing effects, but arthritic pets, athletes, pets with muscle or nerve injuries, and pets recovering from surgery most appreciate the therapeutic effects. Benefits include reduced stress, increased relaxation, increased blood and lymphatic circulation, decreased pain, decreased swelling, and enhanced blood oxygen levels. The most common types of pet massage include:

  • Swedish massage — The most common type in pets, Swedish massage relaxes or stimulates muscles using various techniques that include:
    • Effleurage — Gliding strokes that follow the body’s contours are used to warm up the tissue at the beginning and flush out lactic acid at the end.
    • Petrissage — Tissue kneading helps remove metabolic waste and improve circulation.
    • Friction — This technique is typically applied over trigger points, joints, and tendonitis sites to increase circulation and break down scar tissue.
    • Tapotement — A repetitive tapping motion can help stimulate nerve endings or cause sedation.
    • Vibration — Rapid tissue shaking can help relax muscles, reduce tension, and increase joint mobility.
  • Shiatsu — This Japanese massage technique involves applying finger pressure at specific body points to increase circulation and stimulate nerves.
  • Myotherapy — Also known as trigger point massage, this technique involves applying pressure to tight or painful trigger points to help relieve tension and pain.
  • Sports massage — Massage can help pets who participate in sporting events maintain optimal performance and facilitate injury healing. Event massage can be used before, during, or after competition, and maintenance massage helps prevent injury and speed healing between events. 

Range of motion and stretching therapy for pets

ROM is the full motion that a joint can be moved and is affected by the joint structure, and volume, integrity, character, and flexibility of the surrounding soft tissues. ROM exercises can help patients improve joint function after acute injury or surgery, and those affected by chronic conditions such as arthritis. This therapy can also help increase flexibility, prevent adhesions between soft tissues and bones, remodel scar tissue around joints, and improve soft tissue flexibility to help prevent further injury to joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. ROM exercises include:

  • Passive ROM — Passive ROM involves manipulating the joint through the full motion without muscle contraction. Additional force applied when the ROM limit is reached is defined as stretching. Passive ROM and stretching are often used together to help maintain and improve joint ROM. Passive ROM exercises are most commonly used after surgery before the patient is allowed active weight bearing, to help prevent scar formation, reduce pain, enhance blood flow, and improve joint fluid production. The technique can also help prevent scar formation in a recovering paralyzed pet.
  • Active assisted ROM — Active assisted ROM occurs when the pet’s muscle activity can assist the motion to some degree (e.g., weak pets, those recovering from lower motor neuron conditions).
  • Active ROM — Active ROM is achieved solely by active muscle contraction. Examples include swimming, walking in water or sand, climbing stairs, crawling through a tunnel, and negotiating cavaletti rails.

Joint mobilization therapy for pets

Joint mobilizations are forces applied in a repetitive oscillatory manner to reduce pain and increase joint ROM. A joint mobilization involves stabilizing one bone of the joint while moving the other in specific patterns using a specific amount of pressure. These techniques are indicated for pets in pain and with decreased mobility secondary to nervous system and musculoskeletal dysfunction, including conditions such as hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, intervertebral disk disease, and osteoarthritis. Joint mobilization is graded from one to four, depending on the amplitude of movement and the location of the force applied in the ROM. Grading includes:

  • Grade I — This movement is a small amplitude rhythmic oscillation at the beginning of ROM used to manage pain and spasm.
  • Grade II — This movement is a larger amplitude rhythmic oscillation in the midrange of ROM used to manage pain and spasm.
  • Grade III — This movement is a large amplitude rhythmic oscillation up to the ROM limit used to gain motion in the joint by stretching the joint capsule and connective tissue.
  • Grade IV — This movement is a small amplitude rhythmic oscillation at the end of ROM used to gain motion in the joint.

Manual therapy can be beneficial in many cases to reduce pain, increase mobility, boost immune function, and facilitate healing. If you think your pet may benefit from manual therapy, contact our Central Houston Animal Hospital team, so we can determine an appropriate therapy to meet their specific needs.