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Gracilis Myopathy

Gracilis myopathy GSDDefinition

Gracilis Myopathy – The Gracilis – a muscle in the hind leg. Myopathy – disease or abnormality.

The condition, Gracilis Myopathy also known as Contracture, can be difficult to confirm due to the symptoms being close to that of other more common conditions of the hind limb. Some breeds, for example German Shepherds, are more predisposed than others; however agility dogs are susceptible due to their activities.

The gracilis muscle, located on the inner thigh, is responsible for the adduction (moving the limb towards the body) of the limb. Injury causes exaggerated adduction of the limb making the dog pull the hind limb in towards the body and, in cases where both legs are affected, the feet will cross over.

Causes and Signs of Gracilis Myopathy

Gracilis Myopathy occurs following an injury to the belly of the muscle; either due to a tear in the muscle fibres or as a result of repetitive strain injury. As part of the healing process scar tissue will form in the muscle to bind the torn fibres. This scar tissue is tougher and less flexible than muscle fibres causing restriction in the movement of the muscle. As a result of gracilis myopathy the muscle hyper-contracts, shortening and reducing its functional length and an owner may notice the following:

  • A shortened stride
  • Apparent loss of control of the limb
  • Crossing over of the feet
  • The dog is likely to place their hind limb forward and out to take the tension off the muscles when standing

The dog’s gait may resemble that of a dog with hip dysplasia and x-rays will be taken, proving inconclusive, often followed by an MRI scan to determine the issue. This will show the injury within the gracilis muscle.

The problem for owners is that the condition does not manifest itself at the time of injury, which may have been several months previously, but only after scar tissue has formed. So the dog will generally be acting normally and will still want to play and walk; however there will be a noticeable issue with their stride at a trot or run as there will be over adduction seen (pulling of the leg in towards the body).

Benefits of Massage Therapy

If gracilis myopathy has occurred massage therapy can help to reduce the condition from progressing further.

A session with a Canine Massage Therapist will include a muscular palpation of your dog. Gracilis hypertrophy (hardening) will be felt in the muscle belly and it is this hardening which causes the abnormality in the dog’s gait – they cannot extend the limb fully due to muscle restriction.

It is important to try and promote mobility within the muscle. Sadly if myopathy has occurred it will not be fully resolved but there are a number of things that owners can do to help the dog. Massage therapy can assist in reducing further damage or injury to the muscle, and can assist in scar tissue remodelling. It will also promote health in other muscles so that they can support the dog.

Additionally advice can be given to the owner as it is important to prevent the dog sustaining further injury. This advice can include:

  • Avoiding repetitive actions which put strain on the gracilis muscle e.g., running after toys on wet grass or using a ball launcher as this can cause twisting motions that could cause further damage to the muscle
  • Effective stretching of the dog’s muscles so that they can loosen the muscles prior to exercise
  • A joint supplement as additional support

Author:  Tracy Challis

For further information please see Tracy Challis‘ biography

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