Physiotherapy Assessment - What Is Involved?

What Is Involved In A Veterinary Physiotherapy Assessment?

Common questions I get asked are ‘So what is it you do as a Veterinary Physiotherapist and why do you need to speak to my vet first?’. With a lot of treatments out there to choose from, no wonder it can be a mind-boggling process to understand the role of each therapist out there! Hopefully this clears up some of the speculation of what is involved when you ask a Veterinary Physiotherapist to assess and treat your animals.

All ACPAT (Association of Chartered Physiotherapists in Animal Therapy) therapists first gain an under-graduate or post-graduate degree in Human Physiotherapy before commencing a post-graduate diploma or Masters in Veterinary Physiotherapy. The combination of our human and animal skills enables us to provide treatment for both (which is especially useful when assessing horse and rider performance issues!). We are Chartered professionals and adhere to regulations laid down by our governing body.

When you first get in touch with us, we will chat to you about your animal’s history and the reasons why you are seeking Physiotherapy. We always ask your permission to speak to your Veterinarian, as it is a legal requirement to have Veterinary consent before providing any treatment. If the Veterinarian has recently seen your horse or dog it can be very useful for us to chat to them and find out more about what investigations they have done, their treatment prognosis and discuss what we think may be useful from a therapy point of view. Once we have consent we can come and see your animal!

When we first meet you and your horse or dog, we like to document a more detailed history about your pet. Your opinions are important to us and often give us clues as to where the problem may lie, as you tend to know your own animal the best, you are an invaluable part of the assessment and treatment process! We may ask questions like, for example;

  • When did you first notice the change in behaviour, discomfort or unsoundness?

  • Have they had an injury like this before?

  • What is their daily routine with regards to their discipline and exercise?

  • What do they eat and where do they sleep?

  • Do you have any goals/plans with your horse or dog i.e. competition, showing?

At this point we like to have a look at your animal at ‘rest’ (usually in standing). We observe their conformation and things such as any asymmetry, loss of muscle mass, shoeing if they are shod, any marks, cuts or grazes or areas of swelling. We then like to have a look at your horse or dog moving.

We will look at them walking and trotting towards and away from us so we can get a good idea of how they are moving. We will also ask to see them walk some tight circles around you in each direction as well as some steps backwards. This is a good indicator of how certain joints are moving and looking at their coordination as well. If we see anything of interest or if we know that the issue is when they are performing a certain task i.e. canter transitions, only when ridden or when doing weaves in agility, we may ask to see them perform this particular task. Another option for us is to look at them moving on a hard or soft surface on the lunge. This can help highlight whether it is a joint or muscular issue that is most influencing their movement or pain.

After this we move onto a Physiotherapists favourite bit… palpation the tissues! Being Physiotherapists we are very tactile people and love nothing more than to run our hands over the tissues to feel for things such as tightness, tenderness, trigger points, spasm, stiffness, heat and swelling. We will palpate over the muscle, ligaments and tendons, fascia and joints and will also look at a joints range of motion and any necessary neurological tests if the horse presents with any neurological symptoms.

There are a lot of other ‘quick’ or ‘special’ tests that a Physiotherapist may use to assess areas or issues specific to your horse or dog as needed. So it may not only be the above that you see on the assessment, there may be other techniques used to help get a full understanding of the problems or discomfort that is bothering your four legged companion.

If we feel your horse needs further investigations (as our eyes aren’t x-ray machines!) we might discuss referring your horse back to the veterinarian. If there is nothing that will contraindicate your horse or dog from receiving physiotherapy treatment and Physiotherapy is deemed appropriate, it is onto step two… treatment!

Copyright. Megan King Physiotherapy

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