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What is a Muscle Strain? (Part 1)

greyhound runningThe Strain is the most common muscular injury and is often the cause of muscular lameness, slowing down prematurely and stiffness in dogs. It is commonly referred to as a ‘pull’ and also commonly a poorly understood and neglected injury. There is no such thing as a muscle sprain, this is a tear tothe ligament. A strain is a tear to the muscle. This page will help you to understand more about the strain, the impact on your dog and importantly what you can do to help.

There are 2 types of Strain

  1. Chronic – Prolonged, repetitive movements creates micro tears within the muscle and/or tendon. Usually results from prolonged overuse and inadequate rest periods
  2. Acute – Results from a direct trauma to the body e.g. overstretching of a muscle causing an immediate injury

There are 3 Grades of Strain:

Bruising from a strain to a dogs leg

Bruising affecting hind limb following a strain

Grade 1 – Mild tearing of the muscle fibres where only a few fibres are affected.

Grade 2  – A more extensive strain with a greater number of fibres involved. Severe pain, swelling, and bruising.

Grade 3 – A complete rupture which often results in full loss of use. The tendon may have become ruptured from the bone and the dog may lose full use of that muscle. This type of strain requires surgical repair to stitch the tissue together.

Symptoms / Signs Of A Strain:

  • Lameness
  • Bruising and Haematomas
  • Reluctant to be touched
  • Vocalising in pain/whimpering/crying
  • Lack of weight bearing
  • Ageing or slowing down seemingly overnight
  • Coat changes
  • Grumpy/antisocial/may become seemingly aggressive
  • Stiffness
  • Unable to jump/go up/down stairs
  • Difficulty in jumping on sofa

N.B. A dog who shows these symptoms is quite often misdiagnosed with arthritis. Only an X Ray can show arthritis.

6 Interesting Facts About Canine Massage and the Strain

dogs muscle strain information

  1. With a strain the most effective form of rehabilitation is Canine Massage as it addresses rather than masks the problem.
  2. It pinpoints the EXACT area where the fibres are torn. Canine Massage Guild Members have been taught the Art of Palpation or the Practice of Informed Touch. They are able to feel for changes in the texture and quality of a muscle (and many muscles can feel different depending on whether they are uni/bi/multi pinnate) so it’s not as easy as it sounds. This is why they train for 2 years. Other therapies such as laser therapy are commonly mis-applied to the wrong area making it an inadequate form of treatment as laser therapists may have only trained for 1⁄2 day in this therapy. Pinpointing the area is key to its rehabilitation.
  3. Massage helps to directly remodel the scar tissue to improve its function and importantly its ability to contract , lengthen and return to a normal resting length.

Scar tissue within the muscle will affect the ability of the muscle to correctly lengthen and contract, causing up to a 50% loss of flexibility. Canine Massage Therapy with a Practitioner who specialises in this niche therapy can help to loosen the surrounding tissue and give the muscle back its ability to once again move normally, or at least improve the quality of the tissue to improve movement, mobility and comfort. However, once a muscle has scar tissue in it, it will always have scar tissue in it. This is why a masseuse is able to feel it even after massage

  1. Exercises will not break down or remodel the scar tissue and can often worsen the injury with further micro tears making the rehabilitation period much longer for your dog.

Things such as wobble cushions, balance boards, peanut/swiss balls can actually make the injury WORSE. It’s common sense really. If you put an unstable muscle/joint on an unstable surface what do you think will happen?

The irony is that most people who recommend this type of equipment have probably never used it themselves as part of a rehabilitation programme, have had inadequate training (if any at all), and quite often will just pick up tips from the internet or a trainer who has no qualifications or training in anatomy, physiology and bodywork.

If you have someone who is recommending exercises you need to ask:

  • Their qualifications in bodywork, anatomy and physiology
  • The clinical justification for the use of the equipment
  • The clinical justification for the exercise and its relationship to the affected muscle and its synergistic pair

If you suspect your dog has a strain the worst thing you can do is to begin ‘Strengthening or Reconditioning Exercises’ with your dog. Other exercises such as ‘beg’, sit to stand on 2 back legs etc. will also worsen the area of the strain. If your dog has been given these exercises and they aren’t improving then hopefully you now have an explanation why.

If you are interested in a sensible and results driven exercise programme for your dog go to

  1. Once a muscle is torn it will always be weaker and more prone to re-strain. Keeping the scar tissue unadhered from neighbouring muscle fibres with massage therapy is the key to helping reduce the chances of a restrain.
  2. Once scar tissue is in the muscle it will always remain in the muscle it can never be broken down completely which is why a trained therapist can detect injuries that are years old.

Keep a look out for my follow up blog on How A Muscle Repairs!

Author: Natalie Lenton

For more information please see Natalie Lenton‘s biography

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