Cranial cruciate ligament injuries of the stifle (knee) are a common occurrence in dogs. Tears to the cruciate ligament can occur from trauma, but more often it is a result of a slow degenerative process that compromises the ligament and results in tearing. The cruciate ligament provides stability to the stifle joint. Without this stability, excessive motion occurs at the stifle joint and can lead to progressive osteoarthritis (OA).
Surgical treatment is most often preferred to stabilize the joint, as it reduces muscular atrophy and minimizes the degenerative changes that can occur with more conservative non-surgical management. There are a variety of procedures to repair a torn cruciate ligament. Two of the most common are the tibial plateau leveling osteotomy (TPLO) and the extracapsular repair.
In human medicine, physical therapy is the standard of care following surgery for a cruciate injury. In veterinary medicine it is now recognized that animals benefit from the same treatment protocols and technology used in treating human physical therapy. Studies document the benefits of early rehabilitation intervention in improving range of motion, muscle mass, weight bearing, minimizing the progression of OA, as well as accelerating the recovery process to ultimately restore function and mobility to the patient. Rehabilitation is just as important to minimizing the risk of injury to an animal’s other limbs, as well.
Rehabilitation usually begins a few weeks after surgery to help minimize postoperative swelling, reduce pain, increase range of motion, and promote controlled weight bearing. As tissues heal, there are a variety of therapeutic interventions that can be implemented to restore full range of motion, strength, improve balance, and increase overall fitness. Treatment programs may include manual techniques such as massage, passive range of motion and joint mobilization techniques, therapeutic exercise, aquatic therapy, and modalities such as heat or cold packs, cold laser therapy, and neuromuscular stimulation. Every treatment plan is individualized based on the needs of the patients as well as the owners. Home exercise programs and owner education are a very important part of the rehabilitation program.
Contact our rehabilitation specialists at 610-696-8712 to set up a consultation if your dog has been diagnosed with cruciate ligament disease.