Signs of Pain in your Dog
Dogs can’t tell us that they are in pain and indeed often try to conceal it, so by the time the signs are obvious the issue may be advanced and take longer to resolve.
So, as an owner, spotting the more subtle signs of pain can be very beneficial, as the sooner action is taken and treatment sought the better, in order to prevent further injury, areas of overcompensation and added pain or discomfort. Any of the following signs could indicate that your dog is in pain and may benefit greatly from massage therapy:
Lameness / limping, shoulder dropping, throwing a leg
Difficulty in getting up or lying down, stiff after resting
E.g., agility dog knocking poles
Change in Posture
Arched back, low neck or tail
Twitching of Skin
On back or ‘tickly’ spots can be signs of trigger points and Myofascial pain
Changes in Activity or Habits
E.g., unable to jump in or out of car, go up and down stairs
Changes in Temperament
Such as a normally placid dog being grumpy with other dogs or people
A new flick or dryness in an area
A reluctance to be groomed
Or dried (often on their back or the rear of their hind leg – hamstrings)
‘Just not right’
Aged over night, old before their time, suddenly appearing ‘lazy’ not wanting to go for a walk, depressed
If, during activity, your dog has ever let out a yelp or cry and come back to you hobbling, limping or whimpering a strain may have occurred. Commonly referred to as a `pulled` muscle they occur when the body is unprepared for a certain movement such as a quick twist or pull which causes the muscle or tendon (the part of the muscle which attaches to the bone) to overstretch and over contract, similar to elastic snapping when it’s stretched beyond its capabilities. As it happens a sharp pain is felt and after the initial injury your dog will experience pain, bruising, inflammation and weakness and will most likely show signs of depression, possibly going off their food and not behaving like their normal selves. They can vary in severity and go undiagnosed. Strains are painful and debilitating and shouldn’t be underestimated.
These are painful bands of hyper irritable spots within a muscle that may also be called knots or myofascial trigger points. Most dogs have them from the young and active to the elderly, more sedentary dogs and despite the fact that they can really alter mobility and cause pain they are not commonly recognised. If your dog’s skin twitches or seems painful to touch in a certain area it may well be that a trigger point has developed. They may be thought of as ‘polluted tissue’ caused by a lack of oxygen and nutrition and can accumulate over years due to a single muscle or muscle group being overworked or overloaded causing muscular weakness, lameness, stiffness, slowing down, dropping of the shoulder, lack of foreleg or hind leg extension and signs of ‘premature ageing’ If left untreated they can lead to myofascial pain syndrome / wide radiating myofascial pain.
This is chronic pain caused by multiple trigger points, (see above). Fascia is the connective tissue encasing every organ of the body and is ‘the glue’ that binds every body tissue together in a weblike layer enabling muscles to slide and glide over each other. When it is constricted by injury it fails to receive adequate nutrition and oxygen causing a build up of toxins that irritate the nerve endings. This, in turn, can cause the formation of painful, wide radiating myofascial pain.
Once a muscle has been strained tough and fibrous scar tissue forms as part of the healing process. This tissue is not as flexible or elastic as healthy muscle tissue and can actually hinder normal movement as time passes. Adhesions – the sticking together of fibres and fascia – can also occur, be painful and restrict movement. Massage can help to break down and remodel scar tissue and adhesions thus aiding in better movement and pain relief.
A sprain is an injury to a ligament (ligaments connect bones to bones) and they commonly occur in the stifle (cruciate), the ankle (hock and tarsus), the wrist (carpus) and the toes. Similar to a strain a ligament can be overstretched and even rupture leading to pain and an inability to use the affected limb. There are 4 degrees of sprain from minimal tearing (grade 1) to complete rupture with particles of bone (grade 4).
Dogs of all ages can benefit.
• Young dogs sustaining injuries or overdoing things in day to day activities and exercise
• Middle aged dogs slowing down, ageing overnight or seeming old before their time
• Elderly dogs suffering from arthritis, stiffness, soreness
Lifestyle and Habits
Just like us every dog is an individual with different lifestyles and different disciplines. For example:
• Companion/Pet • Retired Racing/Sporting Dogs • Disabled
• Gundog/working dog
• Show • Obedience • Agility
• Rescue • Giant Breed
And just like us day to day living, habits and activities can lead to muscular injuries and issues – playing with a ball, retrieving and carrying birds on a shoot, racing around an agility course etc.
Special Note – Rehomed, Stressed, Anxious, Nervous and Timid Dogs
The powerful effects and importance of a soothing touch by a caring human may sometimes go unrecognised for dogs in general, but for those with a history of trauma, cruelty or neglect it can be an even more important psychological need. The peripheral and central portions of the nervous system which affect behaviour patterns can be stimulated by certain massage techniques thus helping these dogs to relax and feel a sense of calm. This in turn can help to build self confidence, feelings of trust and sociability – a real benefit in shy, fearful dogs who have possibly suffered abuse and learned only to mistrust people.
Your Dog’s Body Systems
Just some benefits to just some of the body’s systems are listed below:
Muscular (the most obvious) – increasing flexibility and elasticity, removing muscular waste products, improving tone, releasing trigger points, relieving soreness, stiffness etc.
Skeletal – improving posture, mobility, the release of red blood cells
Cardio vascular – enhancing blood flow, improving venous return, lowering blood pressure
Skin – increasing blood supply, improving elasticity, removing dead hair and skin cells
Lymphatic – assisting lymphatic drainage, reducing swelling, boosting immunity by stimulating the production of lymphocytes
Nervous – stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system which slows down the body encouraging it to renew and repair, reducing stress hormone production, controlling pain (pain gate control theory).
Endocrine – returning the body to a state of homeostasis, producing oxytocin and endorphins (the body’s natural opiates)
Digestive – stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system can speed up this system aiding digestion, improving gastric motility and speeding up the elimination of waste products
Respiratory – encouraging deep breathing and improving gaseous exchange
Added benefits: Regular massage can reduce the output of stress hormones like ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone) and increase the output of oxytocin – the hormone associated with bonding and emotional attachment. In young mammals it has been shown to promote the development of nerve pathways in the cortex and sub cortex of the brain, which can result in an increased rate of learning.