In veterinary practice, it is common to see dogs presenting with symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of intervertebral disk disease (IVDD). The condition is similar to a herniated disk in humans, with symptoms ranging from pain to paralysis. Depending on the severity, 58-95 percent of paralyzed dogs will return to being ambulatory after being treated with surgical decompression. Therapeutic lasers are now being used in canine rehabilitation clinics with the hope of reducing time to ambulation.
Therapeutic lasers have been used successfully in humans to enhance neuronal cell metabolism, decrease fibroblast cell mitosis and glial scarring, as well as to reduce the inflammatory response and secondary damage. Therapists hypothesize that the same effects hold true for dogs with paralysis secondary to IVDD. Their belief has been recently supported by a clinical study conducted by Draper et al. (2012). The prospective study assessed thirty-six, non-ambulatory dogs that had suffered from IVDD and had undergone decompression surgery. He found that the laser therapy —in combination with surgery—decreased time to ambulation (median: 3-5 days) when compared to the control group (median: 14 days).
Despite being a small study, the results are promising. It is important to reduce the non-ambulatory time in dogs, much as with humans. Ambulation is a critical component of the overall healing process. With ambulation comes fewer incidences of urinary tract infections, pneumonia, disuse atrophy, and decubital ulcers. In the near future, laser therapy might become the canine therapist’s best friend in our effort to better treat man’s best friend.
David Levine, PT, PhD, DPT, Diplomate ABPTS (Orthopedics), CCRP, Cert. DN
*To learn more about canine rehabilitation, click here.