There are multiple conditions that can benefit from a mainstay physical therapy in post-TPLO patients: the underwater treadmill. Underwater treadmills are a great option for neurologic diseases, obesity and post-orthopedic patients. They are effective due to the fact that they provide an environment that allows full function of a limb with a reduced amount of weight-bearing. This allows for less pain on a post-surgical joint while encouraging the patient to continue to use the affected limb. Following an ACL injury, most dogs become non-weight bearing on the affected limb. This causes muscle loss (atrophy) due to disuse, which is solved by the usage of the underwater treadmill. We are able to control the water level, treadmill speed and incline, allowing the sessions to progress as strength and confidence build.
Following TPLO surgery, dogs’ knees initially show a reduced range of motion. Walking on the underwater treadmill allows for a correct but exaggerated gait pattern, improving joint flexion. Many dogs that are unwilling to use a limb after surgery will use the limb to help maintain balance and stability in the water. There is a perception of increased comfort on the party of the dog, and there is a resistance to forward motion in the functional limbs, which slows the gait pattern and forces use of all four legs.
Surprisingly, most animals adjust very well to their sessions in the treadmill. Even animals who don’t love water are able to start enjoying their treat-motivated exercises!