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Cruciate Ligament, Canine Stifle

Therapy for dogs with cruciate ligament injury

10 Sep, 2016

In my canine myofunctional therapy practice, I have treated a number of dogs with cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) injury. Some of these dogs have had surgical intervention and some have not.

Regardless of the intervention, the rehabilitation programme follows a similar pattern.

What is involved in rehabilitating a dog after CCL injury?

During the acute stage when there is still inflammation and the dog may be on pain medication, massage is contraindicated.

Rehabilitation typically starts 3 – 5 days after the injury or surgery. During this phase, my treatments aim to

  • reduce inflammation and swelling around the injury site
  • manage pain (see Massage for Pain Management blog)
  • improve range of motion in the affected stifle with gentle passive range of motion exercises
  • limit muscle atrophy in the femoral bicep (thigh muscle), and semitendinous, semimembranous, gastrocnemius (hamstring muscles at the back of the thigh)
  • release tension in muscles that are overloaded because they dog is not weight bearing on the affected limb. Muscles in the neck, shoulders and back are particularly affected. The hamstring group of muscles also often develop spasms from remaining contracted to keep the affected limb off the ground.

Within 2 – 3 weeks of the injury or operation, I start adding weight bearing exercises to the treatment plan to aid proprioception and build strength in the affected limb.

By Week 4 – 6 the focus of the treatment programme shifts to building strength in the affected limb. At this time, I may also include some stretching exercises also, depending on how well the dog is doing.

The final stage of the treatment programme is to continue to challenge the dog to regain strength by adding speed, distance and duration to the strengthening exercises. The type of exercises and intensity of them will depend on the dog’s usual activities.

How long does it take to rehabilitate a dog with a cruciate ligament injury?

The duration of a treatment programme is typically 6 – 8 weeks. In the initial stage, I work with the dog weekly and provide owners an exercise programme to practice at home each day. This is typically 3 – 4 consultations.

After this stage, I meet with owners once or twice more fortnightly to check on the dog’s progress with their exercises. During these sessions, I do a maintenance massage treatment to relieve tension in the compensatory muscles as well as range of motion and stretching exercises (if appropriate). I also update the exercise programme based on how well the dog is performing.

How effective is rehabilitation from a cruciate ligament injury?

In my practice, the factors that affect how well the dog recovers from CCL injury are:

  • Frequency of treatment at the initial stage of injury or post-operatively.
  • Consistency with which owners are able to do the rehabilitation exercises with their dog each day.
  • Over confidence – Rushing back into performance can cause setbacks. By week 3 – 4 dogs seem to be moving more freely and sometimes seek to jump into the car or onto the furniture themselves. Allowing the dog to exert themselves too early in the recovery process can slow the overall recovery time.

Full Stride offers in home and clinic based canine massage, physical therapy and nutrition services. Please contact me at to find out how my services may bring you and your dog some relief.

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Until next time, enjoy your dogs.


McGowan, C. 2016. Animal physiotherapy: assessment, treatment and rehabilitation of animals. John Wiley & Sons.

Millis, D.L, Levine, D & Taylor R.A (ed) 2004 Canine Rehabilitation and Physical Therapy, Elsevier Inc, Missouri USA