What are the most common injuries that physios see in dogs? Probably would have to be a competition between cruciate injuries and spinal problems…

A really common story is “my dog was chasing a ball, or running in the park, suddenly yelped, held his leg up, and has not walked well since.” This is a classic presentation of a cruciate tear. Very simply, cruciate means “cross”. It is a large complex ligament within the knee joint that basically holds the knee joint together, and allows normal, pain free movement. If it is damaged it can make for a very unstable knee. The most common way of tearing the cruciate ligament is to run flat out, suddenly stop, turn and leap for the ball (for dogs, and humans as well e.g. netball, football, skiing).

What to do if you think your dog may have sustained a cruciate injury

If you think your dog may have sustained a cruciate injury, the best thing you can do is to get a diagnosis as soon as possible from a specialist vet, because:

  1. They can be hard to diagnose, can often be mistaken for meniscus tears, soft tissue sprains, pulled muscle, arthritis
  2. It’s best to start treatment right away, but then you need to have the diagnosis, as treatment varies… very different approach for a cruciate vs arthritis vs muscle strain etc
  3. Another common story is owners say “we thought it was getting better, we’ll wait and see, give her a bit of a rest, she was ok, then limping again after chasing the ball”.

Muscles stay strong because we (dogs and people) exercise and stand (weight bear) on our legs. If there is pain, we off load, shift weight away from the sore limb… this causes muscles to waste very quickly, the injury gets worse, dog less happy to walk, lethargic, maybe in pain, puts on weight…creating a really undesirable snowball effect.

Treatment for cruciate injuries

If your dog does have a diagnosis of cruciate injury, then you need to decide what course of treatment. Generally bigger, active, younger dogs need surgery, and there are many different surgical procedures, many factors involved… age of dog, breed, size, activity, cost, vet’s preferred technique, owner’s ability to cope with several weeks of rehab post surgery.

Small, elderly, inactive dogs may be ok with conservative management, such as specific exercises, hydrotherapy, keeping weight down.

There is so much information about cruciate treatments, best to consult one or two orthopaedic vets for their opinions, and see a physio whether your dog has surgery or not. We teach you how to help your dog fully recover after the injury, surgery or not, and hopefully avoid further problems.