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Myofascial pain syndrome in dogs

Massage to relieve myofascial pain in dogs

02 Aug, 2019

In a previous article ( ), myofascial pain syndrome (MPS) in humans and animals was discussed. The indicator of myofascial pain syndrome is the existence of myofascial trigger points which are characterised by a palpable taut band in the muscle belly, pain on palpation, and possibly referred pain and local twitch response.

In this article, we review massage techniques that are effective in relieving trigger points and myofascial pain in dogs.

Treatment goals for myofascial pain

The overall goal of a treatment plan for resolving myofascial pain in dogs is to address the underlying cause of the pain. In acute cases, the cause of MPS may be a trauma such as a fall, slip or collision. In chronic cases of MPS, the cause may be disease, chronic muscle overloading through repetitive workload or environmental factors like slippery floors, pulling on lead, stairs, or jumping on furniture or vehicles, poor posture, or abnormal gait.

For the welfare of the dog, however, resolving or managing pain should be the immediate focus of any treatment protocol and veterinary advice should be sought.

Once the immediate issue of pain management has been addressed, myofunctional treatment may help re-establish muscle function by restoring muscle fibres involved in the trigger point to their normal length. This may be achieved using a number of techniques.

Contraction – Relaxation technique

This technique involves gently contracting and then relaxing the affected muscle and is effective on smaller, less established trigger points. This technique is thought to work by the unaffected sacromeres exerting an elongating force on the shortened sacromeres (that comprise the trigger point) and resetting the sarcomere length, as the muscle is slowly moved through a contraction and relaxation cycle.

In human patients, the practitioner can ask the patient to actively perform the contraction and release cycle. However, in canine patients this process is performed passively, that is, the practitioner performs the cycle for the dog. The added benefit of performing this technique passively, is the practitioner can “feel” the resistance in the muscle and ensure contractions are not so forceful that they cause pain which will inhibit trigger point release.

Trigger point pressure release technique

This technique requires the practitioner to apply sustained gentle pressure on the trigger point. When the shortened sacromeres are compressed they become wider and reduces their height and in so doing elongates them. With sustained pressure, this technique normalises the sacromeres’ length.

In dogs, trigger point pressure release needs to be performed with care when applied to painful trigger points. Applying pressure to a painful trigger point can elicit a pain response in a dog, so the technique is typically applied in combination with heat application or following deep tissue massage in the surrounding areas to increase circulation and desensitise pain receptors.

Trigger point massage technique

This technique can be combined with the other two techniques and involves massaging the muscle fibres along the length of the muscle. The practitioner seeks to elongate the contracted muscle fibres. Massage strokes are performed away from the trigger point toward the origin and insertion of the muscle.

Signs that a trigger point has been released

Trigger points particularly chronic, painful trigger points may take multiple treatments before they are resolved. For less persistent trigger points, signs that they have been released include:

  • There will be no palpable muscle “knots” in the muscle.
  • Where the affected muscle is involved in joint movement, the range of motion is restored.
  • There is no local twitch response when palpating the affected muscle.
  • There is no signs of referred pain when palpating the affected muscle.
  • The dog may visibly relax (i.e. lie down, slow their movement and breathing, fall asleep) yawn, pass wind, stretch the affected joint themselves, or want to toilet.

Myofascial pain syndrome frequently is undiagnosed in dogs, particularly when there is referred pain involved, and hence it is left untreated. Now you know a little about this syndrome, please check your dog for signs (or ask your vet), address pain and discomfort, and develop a plan for treating the underlying causes.

Full Stride provides canine massage treatments for dogs suffering from myofascial pain syndrome and trigger points. For more information on how massage may help your dog please feel free to contact me.

Until next time, enjoy your dogs.


Kuan, T. S. (2009). Current studies on myofascial pain syndrome. Current pain and headache reports, 13(5), 365-369.

Qureshi, N. A., Alsubaie, H. A., & Ali, G. I. (2019). Myofascial Pain Syndrome: A Concise Update on Clinical, Diagnostic and Integrative and Alternative Therapeutic Perspectives. International Neuropsychiatric Disease Journal, 1-14.

Simons, D. G. (2002). Understanding effective treatments of myofascial trigger points. Journal of Bodywork and movement therapies, 6(2), 81-88.