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Remedial Exercise Programmes: Flexibility and Range of Motion

In previous blog posts, I have discussed how to assess your animal and how I treat them. Now, its time we discuss what you can do for your animal through Remedial Exercise Programmes (REP).

The progressive aims of veterinary physiotherapy are to:

After reducing pain the next two progressive steps, restoring function and improving performance, require remedial exercise to achieve these goals.

Therefore, an effective remedial exercise programme is very often created by myself, specifically for your animal to restore function and improve performance in certain areas that your animal is struggling or lacking. The prescription of remedial exercise is strongly influenced by a variety of factors. Such factors include your horse or dog’s age, condition, discipline/job, behaviour etc. as well as the owner’s ability (such as time constraints) to carry out the programme.

Target Areas

The main target areas for REP are:

In the following weeks, we will go through all three of these target areas, but today we will discuss flexibility and range of motion (ROM)!

Flexibility and ROM

Flexibility is the ROM available in a joint or group of joints. Flexibility training includes stretching exercises to lengthen and loosen the muscles and make your animal feel more comfortable throughout their day or during training.

ROM is a measurement of the full potential a joint can move from both distance and direction. Your horse or dog’s muscle ability to relax or contract will effect their range of motion. Therefore, if muscles are inflexible, then their range of motion will be less than it should. Hence why the pair (flexibility and ROM) go hand in hand.

When assessing your horse or dog, I may notice that some areas of their body may be very tight or the muscles feel short and restricted. Contrastingly, some areas may be very flexible in your horse or dog. Therefore, it is vital that your animal has balanced flexibility, so that their body is able to continue to work in cohesion. An imbalance in flexibility may lead to compensatory movement and weight shifting, causing excess forces on certain structures and increasing the risk of injury in the future.

Benefits of Flexibility

Flexibility is a key aspect to your horse or dog's physical health and optimal performance. Flexibility means joints can move more freely, allowing more functional movement patterns as well as having a healthy range of motion to perform strength training exercises (hence why flexibility is the first target in a REP!) allowing for greater results. Other benefits of flexibility include:

· Reduced risk of injury

· Prevention and correction of muscle imbalances

· Reduced joint pain and strain

· Enhanced joint range of motion

· Improved athletic performance

Exercises to Improve Flexibility

There are many different exercises to improve flexibility. Some exercises, such as static stretching include moving into a position that will target a specific muscle and holding that position, for example, baited stretches. I will often give baited stretches as an exercise to both horses and dogs to improve their flexibility as well as their core strength.

Baited Stretches are a great way to improve your horse's flexibility and core strength.

Dynamic stretching is also incorporated into REPs to improve flexibility. These can often consist of serpentines, weaving and figure of eights- both for horses in the school and dogs at home. Pole work is also fantastic for improving range of motion, flexibility, proprioception and core strength, as well as many other exercises! These exercises can be incorporated into your horse or dog’s usual routine- at a pace and difficulty level best suited to them.

Weaving is a great dynamic stretching exercises to improve flexibility.

The secret to truly increasing your animal’s flexibility...

The one mistake owner’s often make which halts their animal’s progress in flexibility is their regularity (or irregularity!). You do not need to do hours of stretching to see the benefits in your animal’s performance, but you do need to keep it regular. Just a few minutes of stretching a few times per week is far better than hours of stretching every few months.

Fitting in a couple of minutes of stretching after a ride or walk, or incorporating dynamic stretching into your riding session or dog’s walk, is a really easy way to keep stretching regularly and provide benefits to your pet’s muscles and joints.

And lastly…be patient!

Be patient! You should never be stretching your animal to the point of discomfort. We want slow and smooth movements, not jerky and snatched. Improved flexibility will come with time and regular practice, so don't worry if at first your horse or dog cannot undertake the exercises completely.

For example, one of my clients (Fred) has been struggling with carrot stretches to one side for months. However, his lovely owner has been patient and persistent with the stretches, never pushing him past his comfort zone but continuing to practice the stretches regularly. And just in the last few weeks, she has reported that he is finally starting to match the flexibility he has on the other side.

It took a while, buy Fred is now fantastic at his baited stretches! So be patient with your animal's too!

Flexibility training, included into a REP, prescribed by a qualified veterinary physiotherapist, can provide many benefits to your horse or dog’s performance and quality of life- decreasing stress and improving how the body moves and feels.

If you would like to know more information about how to incorporate these exercises into your animal’s routine, if flexibility is something your horse or dog could work on or which exercises are best suited specifically for your pet, please send me a message!

Veterinary physiotherapy treatment in conjunction with a carefully selected exercise programme can be very beneficial to a patient in rehabilitation or looking to increase their performance. If you feel your animal may need some veterinary physiotherapy attention, please feel free to contact me via phone, email or social media. All of my contact details can be found on my website.

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