Three of the most common injuries in a performance dog are Cranial Cruciate Rupture (blown knee), Supraspinatus/Infraspinatus Strains (shoulder muscle strain), and the Psoas group muscle strain. As an animal chiropractor I see a lot of Psoas muscle injuries; lets talk about how to prevent this from occurring.

First the psoas muscle group are deep stomach muscles attaching at the pelvis and the femur (hind leg) and running to the underside of the lumbar spine. It is unable to be palpated because it is deep…meaning you can not feel it, because it is under so much other muscle. The dog contracts this muscle group to bring its hind legs underneath itself to push off while running. The muscle arches the lower back, tips the pelvis, and brings the hind legs forward, like contracting a spring, winding it up for an explosive release. It is used extensively in jumping and running.

Many times a dog will have a roached lower back. It looks like the dogs spine is protruding upward right after the rib cage. In severe cases in which the muscle is strained the dog is crouched underneath itself and has a difficult time extending the hind leg backward. An injury to this muscle can put the dog out of commission for several months. Most of the time it is more of a chronic injury and what is seen is the roached back and a decreased ability to jump. In agility dogs it may mean the dog refuses jumps or knocks bars.

So how do we prevent this muscle strain. Two ways as with any muscle you need to strengthen it and also make it more flexible. So here are some techniques to strengthen and stretch this muscle group -

Strengthening & Stretching Exercises -

  • Sit up and beg
  • - the begging position is an excellent way to strengthen this muscle. It is an isometric exercise that forces the dog to use its lower back and stomach muscles as stabilizers. Teach your dog to get into the begging position, you know the one in which the dog starts out in the sit position then brings its front paws up and close to its chest while it straightens its back to sit in an upward position. Hold this pose for 10 seconds and then increase it up to a maximum of a minute. This will really strengthen the psoas group.

  • Hind leg stretch
  • - Have the dog stand, kneel behind your dog. Take your left arm and support underneath your dogs belly, be sure he/she is comfortable with this. It may take a couple of times just doing this before you actually stretch your dog. Now with your right hand grab the dogs right knee (in some larger dogs you may have to stabilize the knee with your left hand from underneath the belly and with your right hand grab just below the knee closer to the dogs hock), gently pull the leg straight back, keeping the leg straight at all times. This will stretch the quadriceps and also tip the pelvis forward stretching the psoas group and some of the other stomach muscles. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds and then relax. Switch legs, support with your right hand and use your left to stretch the left hind leg straight back. Repeat each leg 3 times. Go only as far as your dog will allow, up to the point of tension, dogs with injured psoas muscles, hip dysplasia, or bad knees will not be able to extend completely backward, just go to tension.

    Another way of stretching this muscle is to have your dog lay on its left side, then while sitting behind your dog supporting its back by applying a little pressure to the spine with your left hand/arm, gently grab the right knee with your right hand and pull the leg straight backward. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds, then release for 10 seconds, then repeat. Repeat this three times with this leg and then flip the dog to its other side and do the other leg.

    A more advanced technique using what is called dynamic stretching - stretches and strengthens the muscle at the same time. Your dog has to be fit in order to do this and without injury.

  • Dancing Dog or Walking on Hind legs
  • - This entails having your dog stand on its hind legs while placing its front paws on you. To start with you can have your dog stretch as far out as it can with its hind legs. Do this by starting to slowly walk away from your dog while keeping it front paws on you. Eventually work yourself up to where you move far enough that your dog has to move its hind legs to keep his front paws on you - basically you are dancing with your dog. BE sure that the dogs hind legs are stretched out. Then the last step is to actually move away from your dog but instead of the dog dropping to the ground with its front paws he remains standing alone without your support and walks towards you on its hind legs. This will need to be done by coaxing with a treat and lots of time training. Some dogs do it naturally, others take more time. It is definitely an advanced techinique; however it both strengthens the stomach and back muscles as well as the leg muscles and stretches the psoas group out at the same time. An excellent exercise to prevent that roached back or strained psoas group.

    In order to prevent a very common performance dog injury you need to strengthen and stretch your dog. Do these exercises at least every other day if not once a day to have a healthy happy dog.

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