Strains – a strain is a tear to the muscle fibres. When a muscle is subjected to more force than it can cope with it overstretches, the muscle fibres experience more force than they can handle and so they tear. A grade one strain is minor with up to 10% of the fibres torn, a grade two strain will affect up to 50% of the muscle fibres, and a grade three strain goes from over half of the muscle fibres torn to a total rupture, and may require surgery.
Trigger Points – Trigger points are small hyper irritable points which form within a muscle. They are usually very tender and cause pain to touch, but can also cause referred pain into other muscles. Poor circulation and a build up of toxins can cause trigger points to form, as can any activity which leads to the muscles either remaining in a prolonged state of contraction or contracting repeatedly. Trigger points can usually be released fairly quickly but if left untreated they may cause lasting changes to the structure of the muscle.
Myofascial Pain – Fascia is the network of tissue that binds every organ, bone and muscle together, as well as surrounding them separately and keeping everything in place. The fascia should help all the muscles smoothly glide against each other, however when it becomes dysfunctional it becomes tightened o the skin, resulting in everything sticking and a reduction in the range of movement. The nerves and pain receptors running through the fascia are then irritated and become sensitive. Referred pain will be felt in other muscle groups too as the fascia links all the muscles.
Protective Muscle Splinting – Where there is injury or inflammation to a joint, the muscles surrounding the joint attempt to take the strain away from the joint by remaining in a state of contraction. This however causes further problems as the range of movement in the joint is restricted, and the muscles remaining in a state of contraction can lead to trigger points, myofascial pain or strains occurring.
Scar Tissue – When a soft tissue injury heals, fibrous scar tissue forms at the injury site. Scar tissue is more brittle and less flexible than healthy muscle fibre, often leading to reduced mobility and the risk of reinjury as it will tear easier than healthy fibres if it is overstretched. While massage can’t remove fully formed scar tissue, it can help to remodel and break it down, increasing range of movement as a result. The quicker massage is applied to the area (assuming the injury is out of the acute phase and safe to be treated), the more scar tissue can be broken down with healthy tissue able to form.
What causes muscular injury?
- Sudden trauma e.g. collision with another dog
- Overstretching of the muscle e.g. ball chasing, sharp turns when running
- Repetitive movements
- Wear and tear from activities of daily living e.g. slipping on flooring, up and down stairs frequently
- Orthopaedic conditions
- Poor warm up or cool down
- Lack of rest and recovery time after strenuous activities
- Over training
- Sudden change in activity levels e.g. very short walks all week, a ten mile hike at the weekend
- Spending too long with the muscles in a contracted position e.g. while on crate rest
- Post Surgery
Signs of muscular injury –
- Twitchy skin
- Tickly spots
- Licking or nibbling at an area
- Coat flicks or changes
- Heat / inflammation to the area
- Bruising or redness may be visible on some short coated dogs like Greyhounds
- Reluctance to exercise
- Less social with dogs or people
- Unwillingness to be petted or groomed
- A change in their posture
- A change in their gait
- Seeming old before their time
- A change in their sporting performance
- The condition improves with NSAID’s (like Metacam) but will reoccur as the muscle enters the strain and restrain cycle
All of these symptoms may be very subtle, with your dog only showing one very subtly, or can be severe with your dog showing several. This is because the severity of muscular injuries varies greatly, as does the effect they have on the dog. Dogs all have different tolerances to pain, and things like age and general health will affect how your dog experiences an injury. But if your dog has been noticeably showing some of these symptoms it can mean they have had their injury for some time, that it may be moderate to severe, or that they have several areas of concern.
My aim as a therapist is to treat muscular injuries before they become chronic and cause lasting changes to your dogs muscles. Massage can help by –
- Remodelling scar tissue
- Improving circulation, delivering nutrients to the tissue and removing toxins
- Improving mobility
- Relieving patterns of overcompensation
- Breaking down protective muscle splinting
- Removing or at least reducing stiffness
- Improving posture and gait
- Assisting with pain management
- Generally helping your dog feel happier and more comfortable in their daily activities