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And 1, 2, 3 stretch – the benefits of stretching to assist injury rehabilitation in dogs

You may have noticed that when your dog first wakes up, natural instinct takes over and they have a good stretch. You may have even noticed yourself doing this.

Recently I have had great success in using stretching as part of a programme to treat injured dogs. But what is stretching, why does it work and what are the do’s and don’ts of stretching with your dog?

stretch your dog

What is a stretch?

Stretching a muscle involves pulling the ends of the muscle, called the origin and insertion, further apart. These two ends are attached to bones on opposite sides of a joint or joints. By purposely extending a joint or joints, the two ends of the muscle are pulled away from each other and a stretch occurs.

The range of movement in dogs can be affected by two things – joint or muscular restraints. This blog post will focus on muscular elements.

Restricted muscular movement can be caused by a shortening of the muscle. This might be because of postural changes, muscular scarring, spasms or contractions.

I most usually use static stretch techniques in order to increase the muscle length. By doing this I can help to restore flexibility, mobility and range of motion.

I always advise my clients that this process can take up to 8 weeks. Hence I often set them a bespoke set of stretches for ‘homework’.

Why does stretching work?

Stretching works in three main ways:

  1. It helps to restore flexibility and range of movement. As a dog ages or if it is a sporting dog that does a lot of exercise, the muscles can tighten, reducing the range of movement on the joints. This can lead to a lack of flexibility and can cause slower and less fluid movement. A tight muscle is an inflexible muscle which is more prone to injury, particularly strains.
  2. Tight, tense muscles can, over time, contribute to changes in the dog’s posture. Over time this can lead to the lengthening or shortening of muscles and long-term postural change. Stretching can help to restore the dog’s correct posture by lengthening shortened muscles that pull areas of the body away from its correct posture.
  3. Stretching has been proven to increase the blood flow to and from the muscles. This brings an increased supply of nutrients and oxygen to the affected area and prevents the build-up of harmful toxins and other metabolic waste. As such, stretching can speed recovery from muscular injuries as well as reducing muscle soreness.

In the wrong hands stretching has the potential to cause long lasting harm to your dog. Incorrect stretching is worse than not stretching at all. Before attempting any stretching with your dog you are strongly advised to attend a workshop organised by the Canine Massage Therapy Centre.

Author:  Sam Axtell

For more information please visit Sam Axtell’s biography

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