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PT – Dogs during Conservative Treatment—only Light ROM and Massage

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Passive PT during conservative treatment for paralyzed legs

Dogs with paralyzed legs, wait til off of all meds and no pain is surfacing before starting very light at home passive physical therapy while completing the remaining weeks of STRICT rest to allow the disc to heal.

PT must be limited to the very, very lightest of range of motion (ROM) and massage to maintain principals of limited movement.

For the  walking dog, the very fewest of footsteps at potty time are sufficient to keep joints flexing and maintaining circulation in muscles. These dogs do not need passive PT. They need to complete the balance of the STRICT rest to allow the disc to heal.

After graduatio it is safe for the healed disc
 to begin active rehab and PT for wobbly legs and those with paralyzed legs.


When off of all meds and no pain surfaces, then the very light least aggressive range of motion (ROM) can be given to paralyzed legs. This light ROM is in keeping with the principles of limited movement to the back/neck during conservative treatment. Check with your vet before starting.


Dogs on conservative treatment crate rest who are not paralyzed are able to move around a bit in the crate. A few minimal footsteps at potty time keeps their joints and muscles toned. No additional therapy is necessary.

Passive Range of Motion during Conservative Treatment

By Giuliana G. Lerch, BS, LVT, CCRP, Member AARV, LIVMA, Four Leg Rehab, Inc., Academy of Physical Rehabilitation Veterinary Technician (proposed) – organizing committee, Veterinary Medical Center of Long Island

Anatomy of the spinal cord

As the dog moves, the boney vertebrae will push on a disc. While a disc is healing without benefit of surgery, pressure can easily cause the disc to be further damaged and cause more pressure on the delicate spinal cord. Therapy must be performed with utmost care.
Illustration reprinted with permission by the copyright owner, Hill’s Pet Nutrition, from the Atlas of Veterinary Clinical Anatomy

Have your dog lie on its side on the floor with a blanket, towel or on his bed to provide a safe, firm, stable and supportive surface.

Step 1 Warm up stroke technique: Starting at the hip, cup your hand and “pet” your dog from the hip to the foot, repeat 10 times. You may use a soft bristled brush if your dog has a lot of fur.

Step 2 Massage- hamstrings, quads, etc:

  • Use a kneading motion to the hamstrings (back of the leg) and quadriceps (front of the leg) for 3-5 minutes.
  • Rub feet (area between the ankle and paw) up to 1 minute- it is okay if your dog kicks a little. If it is excessive kicking movement, discontinue.
  • Toe touch, lightly between toe pads up to 1 minute to stimulate the nerves- it is okay of your dog kicks a little, if it is excessive discontinue.
Step 3 Leg pump: This will help maintain flexibility in the joints and stimulate muscle tone
  • Hold the hock (ankle which bends opposite of human’s) and support the stifle (knee) with your other hand. In a slow and controlled motion, flex and extend the limb at the hock while supporting the stifle with your other hand. Repeat 10-15 times.
  • Hold at the carpus (paw) and with your other hand support at the hock (ankle). In a slow and controlled motion, flex and extend the hock joint in an even plane. Repeat 10-15 times
Step 4 Cool down: Repeat Step 1 “Warm up stroke”  then repeat Steps 1- 4 for other leg

Step 5 Hip Exercise. Place one hand on the hip and use your other hand to support the leg. Move the leg gently back and forth up to 15 times. You may also try to move the hip joint in semi circles up to 15 times

Step 6 Toe Exercise: Move each toe up and down 10 times.

Watch the video demonstrating the technique for each of the 6 exercises▼
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