About Physical Rehabilitation


Physical rehabilitation is a non-invasive approach used to improve the recovery of patients with both chronic and acute conditions. It can speed recovery, alleviate pain after an injury or surgery, and improve circulation, flexibility, range of motion, and coordination. It can also increase confidence and comfort level even in a patient who cannot return to full mobility, as well as enhance the pet’s life quality, and reduce complications and re-injuries.

Physical rehabilitation generally consists of therapeutic exercises that are performed in conjunction with physical modalities such as hydrotherapy, cryotherapy, therapeutic ultrasound, neuromuscular electrical stimulation and therapeutic laser.  In some cases, Stem Cell Regenerative Therapy or Platelet Rich Plasma Therapy may also be appropriate.

Rest alone after injury usually does not relieve the problems caused by inflammation and spasm.  Also, the body adapts and protects the injured area long after healing has started. These protective mechanisms, like fibrosis and scar tissue, alter movement of the whole musculoskeletal system and increase strain on other areas. Rehabilitation should start as soon as possible after injury to prevent unwanted scarring and hardening of what is naturally strong but flexible tissue like muscle, tendons and ligaments.

Physical rehabilitation isn’t only for pets with health concerns. For working, agility and sporting dogs, physical rehabilitation will improve performance by increasing strength and endurance.  It can also be especially valuable in preparing a dog to return to work or sports after the “off-season” or any other extended break from work.


  • Why does my pet need physical rehabilitation after an injury?

    When your pet gets an injury to a muscle, tendon or bone, it will suffer from disuse of the affected limb from the time of the injury until many weeks after surgery or healing of the acute injury has occurred.

    Your pet’s limb disuse causes:

    • Muscle atrophy or shrinking: This will cause fatigue and inability to walk or play normally. It is very crucial to stop muscle atrophy and build up muscle mass, especially if your dog is a working dog.  For example, dogs will lose one-third of the muscle mass in the hind limb after an ACL tear within the first two weeks after injury. It will take 10 weeks to 1 year to return to normal.
    • Contraction of ligaments, tendons and joint capsules: This will cause pain and a decrease in the normal range of motion in the joint. Your pet will not be able to flex and extend its joints normally and this will stop it from doing normal daily activity.
    • If the limb has to be put in a rigid bandage or splint, the disuse will cause the bone in the injured limb to become thinner and susceptible to further injuries.
    • Degenerative changes to the cartilage: This is most common when a long term splint or bandage is required to fix the injury.
    • Development of scar tissue

    Without proper rehabilitative therapy after an injury or orthopedic surgery, these unwanted complications can become permanent, thus dramatically affecting your pet’s quality of life.  The purpose of rehabilitation medicine is to prevent and/or correct these unwanted consequences.

    Initially, aggressive pain management is the center of rehabilitation.  Pain can be reduced and controlled with ice, TENs units, and laser therapy in addition to analgesic medications.  Once pain is under control, therapy can be started to decrease the effects of disuse.  Controlled exercise with equipment such as the underwater treadmill helps restore normal function to the injured limb.  Along with rehabilitative exercises, stretching and massage prevent tissue contraction and development of motion-inhibiting scar tissue.

  • What are some common conditions requiring rehab?

  • Why choose a rehabilitation veterinarian?

    Physical Rehabilitation veterinarians are first and foremost doctors of veterinary medicine and are therefore highly trained to diagnose and provide therapy for animals with disease and injury. In addition, they have advanced training, expertise, and, most importantly, experience in the management of pain and loss of function through injury and illness. Only a veterinarian can provide whole body care, prescribe needed medicines and perform a diagnostic evaluation prior to designing a treatment plan.

  • Does my pet insurance cover the cost of physical rehabilitation?

    Many pet insurance companies now cover physical rehabilitation with the condition that it is performed in a veterinary clinical setting with a veterinarian prescribing the treatment. Click below to see some of the companies that cover rehab as part of their core plans.

    AARV Pet Insurance Summary.

    Please inquire directly to your insurance company to determine benefit levels.