Braces for Dogs With Knee Problems

Braces for Dog Stifles (Knees)

This post is not meant to trash knee braces; no, instead it is meant to point you, the reader, toward more broad thinking. I have utilized tarsal and carpal braces very often in my practice, and soon I hope to write about the benefits and timing of using them.

I have the knee brace discussion occasionally with veterinarians and every time they ask my opinion. Most of the time, it seems that vets hear about therapy concepts at seminars or in journals, and they naturally think, “that’s a good idea!”.

There are lots of “good ideas” out there in the world. I am working to broaden the idea pool in my corner of practice with concepts I have encountered in over 35 years of athletic program design and wellness practice. Many ideas crossed over into veterinary medicine are not the greatest for our companion animal friends; however they have been a start to get a bunch of balls rolling.

Braces are a good idea for stabilizing a leg instead of surgery, especially if the person(s) designing or desiring stabilization don’t have any strength and conditioning program design experience. Most rehab practitioners and veterinarians do not have this valuable experience. Notably the veterinarians are busy with a plethora of medical issues. Strength and conditioning is its own specialty, and rehabilitation practice is often a subset of this specialty. Physical therapy in human medicine ties into this subset as well, however the designs of physical therapy work best with an intuitive practitioner that is well-versed in strength and conditioning protocol. Volumes of time and money have been spent to prove this point, and I won’t rehash it here!

In marrying several aspects of science, I believe we can practice toward a better outcome.

Stabilize the leg and joints by building the strength of the connective tissue, muscles, joints, and even bones. No, this is not exactly the same as stabilization by surgery, however I will say that not all knee surgeries “work”, and if you do opt for surgery, you STILL need to do a 12 week (optimal) progressive recovery program. As it is, all of my cases with torn knee ligaments that have followed protocol have had successful outcomes, returned to very good or great function, and more often than not, surprised the veterinarian. Most vets who see these results then embrace the protocol for their patients, however this protocol does require an owner follow the guidelines or pay me, another practitioner, or the vet to do the work! (ahhhh, the caveat…)

I do often point out that surgery is not magic, and in practical recovery using science and biology as a basis, any of us should be doing rehab after surgery or injury…

Volumes of research have been done regarding evaluation of the best gravity-based exercise methods and protocol. Since our companion animals have bones, nerves, muscles, ligaments, tendons, etc…just like we do, the research regarding strengthening is valid across species. While I haven’t had money to run research projects and individually prove the concepts I use for Great Danes, Doxies, Maine Coons, and New Zealand’s, just to name a few, I do have the knowledge to build individual and collective programs. There are and there aren’t one-size-fits-all formulas, however some basics weigh in equally across the board.

For a start on the homework for torn knee ligaments, please go to this page: http://rehabilitationandconditioningforanimals.wordpress.com/category/how-tos-for-you-to-rehab-your-pet/homework-instructions/knee-issues-homework-homework-instructions/

Problems that I have found with braces:

*very expensive

*often very difficult for most people, including veterinarians and me, to put on the pet

*cause additional abrasions and actually stifle (no pun intended) “normal” movement and recovery.
fitting is difficult, and, as in the case of bandaging after surgery (which has thankfully           been eliminated in most areas and cases), rubbing causes additional problems that often outweigh any potential benefits of bandaging…

*well-intended, however not a great substitute for a well-designed return-to-function program.
the braces came on the market about the time I was beginning to write exercise therapy and sports- medicine-based activity programs.
Following the programs I have designed, as written, will substantially increase function       and stability naturally, and such programs weren’t in evidence in animal rehab when I came into practice at the end of 2004. I marry concepts of advanced athletic recovery and simple sport science with veterinary rehab to achieve simple programs to improve function and recovery from surgery, injury, neurological conditions, and arthritis.

*if the brace is used in lieu of an active recovery program, people get a false sense of stability regarding their dog’s knees (or other joints), and when the dog does more crazy activity in the brace, they run the high chance of going ahead and tearing the opposing ligament, which is already a recognized issue in veterinary medicine.
If you follow my simple and progressive return-to-function programs for 12 weeks, you will see a gentle and stabilizing treatment of injured limb(s) as well as the other limbs (arms and legs, if you prefer :))

*so, to save money by not purchasing something you may not need and to promote the best interest of your pet as well as acknowledge good tools at hand for non-surgical
interventions, work toward doing 12 weeks of active, progressive recovery, which                 should level out bilateral leg use and potentially help with some other health issues along     the way and THEN if the knee are still unstable, get the brace if you want to hike                   mountains with your dog!

Thank you!

RehabDeb, revised August, 2014