Myofascial pain - a most common, little known condition
Myofascial pain is not dealt with in detail at Veterinary College so it is possible that your vet doesn't know much about it, or how to identify it. If you are unsure if you dog is experiencing myofascial pain why not book them in for a Muscular Health Check and I will be able to advise.
Does your dogs back twitch when they stretch?
Are they slowing down?
Do they look stiff when they first move but improve as they move about?
Above are the most common signs of myofascial pain! More symptoms are provided below.
Fascia is the 3D network of connected tissue in which all other body organs and structures are held. It is ubiquitous, literally everywhere in the body! In addition, it is now thought to be a sensory system in its own right and due to the scale and extent of it in the body it it may be the most important communication system.
Did you know!
If you could remove everything that was not fascia from your body you would be left with a perfect 3D model that would be recognisably you! Fascia is not only everywhere but it holds contours, features and posture too.
Fascia is essential to allow the different body structures to move and to slide over each other. It literally provides the lubrication required for movement.
So fascia is important! If its function is restricted in any way it can have significant and wide ranging affects on mobility, pain, and mood as well as activity and energy levels.
What's more, restrictions in one area will affect other distant parts of the body. For instance hip pain places the fascial network under more tension, which in turn causes back and shoulder pain.
Fascia becomes dysfunctional for a number of reasons, including:
Repetitive behaviours such as ball chasing
Activities of daily living such as jumping onto furniture, using stairs, constantly looking up
Agility or Flyball where jumping over obstacles, weaving and rapid turns are required
High impact or trauma including 'body slamming' by other dogs
Compensating behaviours in dogs with osteoarthritis, joint dysplasia, back pain or other joint issues
Soft tissue injuries such as muscle strains and ligament sprains
Extended crate rest
Dehydration particularly in dogs that don’t drink much water
As a dog ages the above factors build up in the tissue so older dogs will very likely be experiencing some myofascial pain.
Myofascial pain can be detrimental to your dogs quality of life but I see improvements in many of my clients after just one session - so it can be treated.
Dogs with Myofascial Pain will show one or more of the following symptoms:
Skin twitching or flinching particularly when stretching or being touched
Reluctance to be handled and possibly yelping when touched in an area
Sore, stiff back legs
Tight skin that cannot be lifted away from the underlying muscles
A ‘tickly’ spot around the middle of the back
Restricted, shortened stride - they might look like they are shuffling along
Excessively rolling on their back
Hair flicking up where it hasn’t before
A nervous, anxious or depressed character
When Myofascial restrictions and pain are present the fascia tightens onto the skin, increasing nerve and pain sensitivity (hence
the twitching of the skin). Fascia also adheres to the underlying muscles inhibiting its natural movement. This 'bound' tissue can cause nerve dysfunction, oedema and patterns of pain referral.
Arthritis or Myofascial pain?
Damaged or dysfunctional fascia can mimic the symptoms of other diseases such as Arthritis. As fascia can become abnormal over time it is not uncommon for owners to notice a reduction in stamina and a dog slowing down and assume it is an unavoidable aspect of getting older.
Is your dog grieving, depressed or anxious?
Fascia can also hold on to emotional memory; so a traumatic experience such as bereavement, a rehoming centre, or an attack can be 'remembered' in the fascia. Owners might see the dog start to show restricted or more jaunty movement, increased anxiety or reactivity, reluctance to move, restlessness, stiffness on rising and other symptoms of pain.
The drugs don't seem to work!
Myofascial Pain in dogs is the most common issue I see in practice and medical intervention using pain killers or anti-inflammatories is not usually effective, with owners often seeing little or no improvement in symptoms.
Dysfunctional fascia needs direct mechanical release if it is to be resolved. Myofascial releases used in my clinical massage therapy can produce profound results in a dog, with owners often reporting improvements after a single session.
Note for vets
Trigger Point and Myofascial Pain could be the missing link in your patients pain cycle treatment. Quite often Trigger Point and Myofascial Pain is NSAID resistant. If NSAID's do reduce the pain experienced they will only be masking and not directly addressing the issue. This means that as soon as your patient comes off the drugs the pain will be evident once more.
Myofascial releases carried out within a clinical massage treatment is an excellent option for patients that are NSAID intolerant, are not responding to NSAIDS, are experiencing renal failure or have gastrointestinal intolerance.
If you have a dog presenting with symptoms consistent with arthritis it might be worth referring them to me for treatment. If it is soft tissue dysfunction - such as trigger points or myofascial pain - then I can often resolve or alleviate the underlying problems. If if is arthritis I can still help your patient to remain mobile and support your pain management protocols.