Rehabilitation after orthopedic or neurologic surgery

If you had a knee surgery or a hip replacement, your surgeon would be sending you for post-operative physical therapy. We in the veterinary world are starting to catch up to our human counterparts…and this is a great thing for our pets! The success of a surgical procedure can be dependent on what we do for physical therapy in the post-operative period. (For clarification, physical therapy is a human term, and physical rehabilitation is the term we use for veterinary patients)

Why physical rehabilitation?

The benefits of physical rehabilitation are numerous! Decreasing pain and inflammation, improving mobility and joint range of motion and helping regain muscular strength and endurance are just a few of the benefits.

Initial treatment

Postoperative physical therapy begins immediately after surgery. Cryotherapy, the use of ice applied to the surgery site is of tremendous benefit in decreasing swelling and pain. Icing can continue every 6 hours for 3-5 days, once a pet is taken home after surgery.

Passive Range of Motion and Massage: Both of these techniques, which are easy to perform, are also started shortly after surgery. Passive range of motion helps to maintain joint movement in pets who are not yet using their limbs as they should be. Massage feels good to us and feels good for our pets. It is very helpful in improving local blood flow and decreasing muscle tension, which is common after surgery.

Leash walking: In pets that have had orthopedic or neurologic surgery, a crucial part of rehabilitation is beginning slow leash walking. The key word here is SLOW! Teaching pets to walk slowly often “forces” a pet to use the affected leg even when they do not want to. It also helps to “retrain” animals to walk after neurologic surgery.

Progression of Rehabilitation

Laser therapy at NorthStar VETSApproximately 2 weeks after surgery, we begin formal rehab. At NorthStar VETS, we meet with clients and patients to assess the pets’ pain level, recovery and formulate a plan of home exercises. These exercises may include more intensive walks, stretching, weight shifting exercises and beginning some strength training with tools such as physio rolls, cavelettis, wobble boards, etc. At this time, we will also begin underwater treadmill therapy. The underwater treadmill is extremely beneficial, especially in early recovery, because the pet is buoyant in the water which reduces the strain on the affected limbs or limbs.

It is hard to say how long a physical rehabilitation program may take because each pet is an individual. However, we do know that pets heal faster and get back to better function sooner with rehabilitation therapy. Finding a certified rehabilitation professional is the first step. They will work with you to develop a program to meet the needs of you and your pet, and help you to get them on their feet as fast as possible.

For more information on rehabilitative therapy, visit the rehabilitation page at or call us at 609.259.8300.

Pamela Levin, DVMPamela Levin, DVM, CVA, CCRT
Dr. Levin earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Science from the University of New Hampshire in 1992. She graduated from Ross University, School of Veterinary Medicine in 1998 after completing her senior clinical rotations at Oklahoma State University. Dr. Levin has practiced as a small animal general practitioner and emergency and critical care veterinarian in New York, New Jersey, California, and Massachusetts. Pam has served as Director of Emergency Medicine at a small animal referral and emergency hospital in Massachusetts. Dr. Levin received her Certification in Veterinary Acupuncture in 2009 through The International Veterinary Acupuncture Society and her Certification in Canine Rehabilitation Therapy in 2011 through the Canine Rehabilitation Institute. Prior to joining NorthStar VETS in 2011, Dr. Levin served as staff acupuncturist at a small animal referral and emergency hospital in New Jersey. Dr. Levin’s areas of interest include improving patient’s quality of life though pain management, therapeutic exercise, and noninvasive alternative therapies. She is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association, New Jersey Veterinary Medical Association, American Academy of Veterinary Acupuncture, International Veterinary Acupuncture Society, American Association of Rehabilitation Veterinarians, and the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management.

This entry was posted in Pets, Veterinary Medicine and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *