Chiropractic care in orthopaedic cases - Veterinary Practice
Your browser is out-of-date!

Update your browser to view this website correctly. Update my browser now

×

InFocus

Chiropractic care in orthopaedic cases

Chiropractic care provides a new and exciting avenue to increase the welfare, well-being and quality of life for animals suffering pain and stiffness as a result of acute and chronic orthopaedic conditions

In human medical practice, chiropractic care is well established for orthopaedic patients struggling with pain, discomfort and loss of function. Where appropriate, it is commonly applied alongside medical interventions as a more conservative approach to improving symptoms.

There is a growing demand for veterinary chiropractic as well, most commonly in cases where there is orthopaedic disease resulting in compensatory gait patterns and altered neuromuscular control. However, any orthopaedic condition can be considered for and benefit from chiropractic care when applied at the appropriate time.

How does chiropractic care work?

Lack of spinal mobility to any degree results in tightening of the surrounding soft tissues and impacts nerve function, resulting in compensatory pain and stiffness. This pain/stiffness affects areas of the body, quickly building into a complex and self-perpetuating cycle of increased stiffness and poor mobility.

Painkilling medications can resolve these symptoms in the short term but do not address the spinal dysfunction resulting from compensatory adaptations, whereas chiropractic care addresses these areas specifically to improve overall health and welfare. As, from a welfare perspective, the ideal scenario is for animals to be on minimal medication, chiropractic care has a role to play in assisting this process.

It is important to acknowledge that chiropractic care does not replace veterinary care, particularly where surgical intervention is necessary for the restoration of tissue integrity and functionality. However, where surgery is necessary, it does complement cases once the initial post-surgery healing is complete.

Chiropractic care does not replace veterinary care, particularly where surgical intervention is necessary for the restoration of tissue integrity and functionality

For example, in a recent case at McTimoney, a young male Doberman with C6-7 instability underwent surgery that failed within a few months. The Doberman presented with considerable hindlimb circumduction and ataxic gait but showed noticeable improvements following chiropractic treatment tailored to the individual compensatory patterns for his weakness. This case will require ongoing maintenance and care at appropriate intervals, but the patient’s quality of life is undoubtably improved by chiropractic care.

What is the McTimoney veterinary chiropractic technique?

The McTimoney chiropractic technique is an effective and gentle chiropractic technique that uses very quick and exceptionally light adjustments to specific locations on vertebrae or skeletal structures . These adjustments initiate an innate healing response in the tissues surrounding the joints and improve the function of the target area.

It is important to recognise that the lightness of this technique is fundamental to the acceptance of the treatment by animals who are likely to be in some pain or discomfort. Gentle chiropractic methods such as the McTimoney technique encourage the body to resume and facilitate the return to normal functioning without any application of significant force. This is in comparison to some of the more disturbing practices purporting to be “chiropractic”, often performed by unqualified individuals, that have surfaced on social media in recent years.

When is chiropractic care appropriate and how does it support veterinary care?

Due to the gentleness of the adjustments and application to target areas, chiropractic care (based on the McTimoney technique) is appropriate as a conservative care option where surgery is contraindicated or socio-economic factors are limiting. For chronic conditions and acute conditions post-surgery, chiropractic care is appropriate alongside medical interventions, such as painkillers and anti-inflammatories, and complements physiotherapy, hydrotherapy and other professional modalities.

Once basic exercise has been reinstated in post-surgery cases, the animal chiropractor can also report on the subtle but telling changes in spinal asymmetry that result from compensatory gait patterns and subnormal neuromotor control as healing takes place. This can inform the progress of rehabilitative care – if increased exercise leads to a marked deterioration in skeletal asymmetry, it is a strong indicator for reducing exercise again until improved symmetry can be retained at that level of rehabilitation.

Due to the gentleness of the adjustments and application to target areas, chiropractic care is appropriate as a conservative care option where surgery is contraindicated or socio-economic factors are limiting

In the case of an older collie with cruciate ligament rupture, chiropractic care was provided alongside laser and rehabilitative exercises from two weeks post-surgery (internal data). This case was complicated by the presence of diagnosed bilateral elbow osteoarthritis which had been evident for at least two years prior to the cruciate injury. Chiropractic care provided an ongoing assessment of the effect of compensatory gait patterns. Within a month, the asymmetry presented changed, reflecting a return to mild compensations for the elbow osteoarthritis. This indicated that the gradual increase in exercise was strengthening the hindlimb correctly.

Chiropractic care in the equine performance industry

Combined chiropractic care with physiotherapeutic intervention has been successfully used and is growing in demand, particularly in the equine performance industry. Osteoarthritis is very commonly implicated in equine performance issues and with the addition of rider weight producing comparatively exaggerated compensatory patterns to those potentially seen in smaller animals, chiropractic care to identify pelvic asymmetries and spinal curvature can be invaluable in monitoring subtle and developing subclinical symptoms of discomfort.

Where skeletal asymmetries become chronic and unresponsive to the gentle chiropractic adjustments applied, further investigation may be warranted by the vet even where clinical lameness is not yet evident, enabling earlier diagnosis and better prognosis.

What training do qualified animal chiropractors have?

Chiropractors qualified by the McTimoney College of Chiropractic and McTimoney Animal Association are specialists in the assessment and adjustment of spinal asymmetry and must, therefore, be able to correctly assess every animal for contraindications for treatment as well.

Graduates from, for example, the post-graduate Level 7 MSc in animal chiropractic achieve a high level of day one competency to be able to support veterinary welfare and care in the cases they see. This includes an initial evaluation for musculoskeletal disorders, symptoms and indicators for referral back to the veterinary surgeon where a diagnosis has not been confirmed, as well as a depth of understanding of conditions pre- and post-surgery and the safe application of chiropractic care for every individual.

Where can I learn more about animal chiropractic?

As the professional association for graduates of the McTimoney technique for animal chiropractic, the McTimoney Animal Association is committed to expanding the peer-reviewed research available on chiropractic care and how it enhances animal welfare. This includes the development of the relationship between vet-led teams of animal chiropractors and all other professionals involved in animal care.

The association has a dedicated veterinary page for their research, which includes a free-to-view webinar on the use of chiropractic care in the veterinary industry. This webinar summarises some of the key peer-reviewed research papers taken to conferences across the world by graduates of the MSc programme, including the effects of treatment on equine kinematics, pelvic and musculoskeletal symmetry, horse–rider interactions and canine limb laterality. Case studies showing the use of McTimoney chiropractic care in real life are also available, including cases with dogs, cats, horses and even an alpaca and bearded dragon.

The Animal Chiropractic and Rehabilitation Conference on Wednesday 17 April 2024 is an inaugural event showcasing some of the most exciting research relevant to chiropractic, veterinary and rehabilitative medicine. It also provides an opportunity for like-minded professionals to meet and interact with the view of developing greater interaction between veterinary disciplines.

Find your local McTimoney-qualified chiropractor here. For more information about the Animal Chiropractic and Rehabilitation Conference, keep your eyes on the McTimoney Animal Association website and Facebook page. from February 2024 at £30 each.

Final thoughts

Chiropractic care is a growing aspect of the veterinary industry, providing both complementary care and a conservative alternative to medical and surgical management in orthopaedic cases. Whether as part of post-surgery healing and rehabilitation or due to chronic and acute conditions, chiropractic care provides a new and exciting avenue to increase the welfare, well-being and quality of life for animals suffering pain and stiffness.

Chiropractic care provides another avenue of assessment for the source of potential pain through careful consideration of the compensatory patterns presenting

If animals could talk, it would be so much easier to identify sources of pain and orthopaedic disease, but chiropractic care provides another avenue of assessment for the source of potential pain through careful consideration of the compensatory patterns presenting.

Nikki Routledge

Nikki Routledge, MSc, PGCLT, FHEA, BSc (Hons), MMAA, AHPR, is a qualified McTimoney animal chiropractor who has been treating competition and pet horses and dogs in South West England for over 20 years.

Nikki enjoys teaching students at the McTimoney College of Chiropractic, being able to pass on the knowledge and skills that have given her such a varied and interesting career working with so many animals and their owners to a new generation of animal chiropractic practitioners. “Every day is different and every animal I see is an individual,” says Nikki. “That makes my work rewarding […] helping others to understand the way that chiropractic care promotes animal welfare is a passion for me.”


More from this author

Have you heard about our
IVP Membership?

A wide range of veterinary CPD and resources by leading veterinary professionals.

Stress-free CPD tracking and certification, you’ll wonder how you coped without it.

Discover more