Physical rehabilitation is the diagnosis and management of patients with painful or functionally limiting conditions, particularly those with injury or illness related to the neurologic and musculoskeletal systems. It is, essentially, physical therapy as revised and designed for animals. The goal of rehabilitation is to achieve the highest level of function, independence and quality of life possible for the patient. This inherently includes the reduction of pain and discomfort.

Every patient has very individual needs and circumstances, so treatment plans are customized specifically for each patient. As they progress through rehabilitation, the plan is adjusted regularly according to the patient’s response. The goal is to optimize therapy for the individual in order to meet their medical and physical needs and provide a successful outcome in a reasonable time period. Some problems will respond quickly, others may be slower to improve depending on the nature of the original problem, the pet’s age and their individual ability to participate in the necessary exercises and therapeutics.

Our goal is to partner with pet owners with the common goal of addressing each pet’s specific problems or functional limitations. Where possible, we are happy to provide home exercises that may be performed by the pet owner on the days they are not here for formal rehab. This extra therapy can facilitate a faster recovery where appropriate.

The first rehabilitation session begins with a fairly exhaustive list of measurements including range of motion (extension and flexion) on every major joint, head to toe muscle palpation, measurement of muscle girth and Digital Stance Analysis to provide objective data for our starting point in therapy. Pain scores and muscle mass evaluation is essential to this assessment. Their customized plan evolves from the information collected and the rehab team forms a proposed therapy plan and the first session is typically performed that day. This plan will be adjusted and adapted over time as the patient progresses through their therapy. Some rebound very quickly and others may be a bit slower to improve. Sometimes we have to be a bit creative in finding exercises that work for each individual. 

On rehab days, please bring your pet hungry, and if possible, provide a supply of their most favorite treats. If they are better motivated by a ball or toy, please provide that instead. We can use these to help motivate them to learn new exercises and work harder during their program. While every pet’s therapeutic program is different, they usually begin with some form of warm up which may include stretching, Laser therapy, TENS/NMES (electrical muscle stimulation), PROM (passive range of motion exercises), medical massage or a combination of the above. This is typically followed by very specific therapeutic exercises performed with periods of rest in between. Many will also work-out in the hydrotherapy unit for the multi-joint benefit it provides. Some patients will also receive acupuncture or electroacupuncture, land treadmill work and PEMF sessions (Pulse Electromagnetic Field Therapy).

If your pet seems sore or painful the night of rehab or the following day, please let us know. If they are simply a bit tired, that’s normal and appropriate after a good workout. Please keep us updated so we may adjust our exercise plans accordingly. Many pets are on analgesic medications and/or various supplements when they begin their rehabilitation program. Please let us know if there are any changes in their regimen as these all intertwine quite closely. If your pet has any special needs, concerns or unusual behaviors, please share those with us so we may provide personalized care and attention throughout their therapy.

Elizabeth F. Baird, DVM, CVPP, CCRT, cVMA
Steele Pain Management & Rehabilitation Center

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