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The Importance of Weight Management for Rehab & Physio Therapies

Numerous studies have shown that obesity in humans leads to significant health issues; pets are no different.

When it comes to creating a successful rehab/physio program for our pets, their weight plays a significant role in whether such programs are successful.

Impacts of Obesity

For overweight pets, the extra weight that they are carrying places more strain on their bones, joints, and ligaments which make movements more difficult. This leads to more pain for your pet. These two issues combined make your pet less inclined to participate in exercises because it is difficult and painful.

Particular dog breeds, such as Dachshunds, have very long backs in relation to the length of their legs. In breeds like this, carrying excess weight places significant strain on the spine and significantly increases the risk of them developing painful and debilitating spinal conditions such as intervertebral disc disease (otherwise know as a 'slipped disc').

Other medical conditions associated with obesity, such as heart disease, cushing’s disease and diabetes, also inherently cause musculoskeletal weakness, therefore predisposing these pets to injuries, including cranial cruciate ligament rupture as one example.

Not surprisingly then, many studies have proven that simply the act of losing weight provides significant pain control, as well as prevention for further injuries, for many of our overweight patients.

Impacts of being Underweight

While obesity is commonly understood to impact rehab success, did you know that being underweight also negatively impacts the success of physiotherapies?

The two main reasons for this include loss of bone density as well as decreased stability surrounding the bones and joints themselves. Let’s delve into this further!

In individuals who are underweight, minerals and nutrients that would normally keep the bones strong, are leached or diverted to maintain muscle activity and to fuel essential organs. This results in a loss of bone density, which in turn causes brittleness of the bones and puts them at risk of fracture.

With respect to loss of stability, without toned and strong soft tissues to support the bones and bony joints, the weight of poorly muscled individuals is carried by the bones themselves. This causes higher pain levels and a less stable environment to protect them from injury.

A good example of this is intervetebral disc disease (commonly known as a 'slipped disc'). When core muscles surrounding the spine are nice and strong, they act to support the bones in the spine and can assist in reducing the likelihood of another disc from bulging. Conversely, when there is poor core strength (meaning there is little muscle mass supporting the spine) any disc instabilties are soley reliant on the bones surrounding them for support. The lack of soft tissue support around the disc space then increases pain (due to the instability of the area) as well as increasing the likelihood of another disc potentially bulging at a later stage. Rehab exercises that strengthen these core muscle groups can therefore assist in both treatment of an unstable spine, as well as preventing future instability episodes.

Rehab and physiotherapies are therefore crucial in helping underweight individuals to build their muscle mass and supporting soft tissue structures to aid in protecting them from injuries in the longer term. Since there are inherent risks of exercising these individuals while they have low muscle mass, an exercise program starting with low impact exercise such as hydrotherapy and low impact therapeutic exercises are critical in helping to assist strength building safely to avoid injury.

How exactly does Rehab help with Weight Management?

Rehab and physiotherapies assist with weight loss for obese patients and appropriate weight gain through increased muscle mass for underweight patients.

Before commencing any exercise plan it is important to first address any areas of musculoskeletal pain. Put simply, if a foot or leg is painful then the pet will put decreased weight through that limb. If they're not using the limb, then it will be impossible to strengthen the soft tissues in that limb. To achieve success in rehab, pain must first be identified and treated before any strengthening can occur.

Ranging from remedial massage to laser and pulsed magnetic field therapy, right through to acupunture or additional medications, our rehab professionals have a host of pain relieving therapies at their disposal for exactly this purpose.

Our exercise plans include therapeutic exercises that can be completed at home as well as hydrotherapy (where appropriate) to assist in building your pet's fitness and strength.

All our rehab appointments include weight management and nutrition plans which aim to reduce body fat and to build lean muscle mass. Our highly qualified team will review your pet's current diet and provide written nutrition and exercise plans to assist in fulfilling your pet's required goals for achieving a successful rehab program. Each visit will include gait assessment and weigh in's so that we can track your pet's progress and every 4-6 weeks one of our physios will perform a rehab assessment to ensure the program is successfully on track. We are committed to ensuring your pet's success and we are here to support you every step of the way!

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