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Repetitive strain injury in dogs

Repetitive strain injury in dogs and how to treat it

19 Sep, 2017

In humans, work related musculoskeletal disorders cost employers and employees billions of dollars annually and take a significant toll on the sufferer. These disorders stem from work-related cumulative traumas, overuse and repetitive strain injuries and typically involve inflammation, fibrosis and degeneration of muscle tissue resulting in loss of function and strength in the affected limb.

Can dogs suffer from repetitive strain injuries?

Dogs can also experience injuries from repetitive actions, particularly those participating heavily in competitive dogs sports. Repetitive actions in some sports include the following:

Obedience – Dogs working on the handler’s left side. Depending on the handler’s preferences for heeling position, the dog will typically turn their head slightly to the right and potentially looking upwards. The dog is also required to keep their hind limb close to the handler’s left leg. This position requires strength in the neck and back muscles. Also the hamstring group of muscles are engaged in movement to propel the dog forward in this position.

Agility – Dogs jumping, turning tightly at speed and contacting with obstacles such as the A-frame, dog walk, seesaw, table, tunnels and various jumps. In a 2006 survey of agility participants, soft tissue injuries were the most common type of injury. Soft tissue injuries predominantly affected dogs’ shoulders and back muscles. Injuries occurred from overuse from repetitive actions, slips and contact with obstacles.

Flyball – Dogs jump over several low jumps and contact a “box” with the forelimbs at speed. Common repetitive strain injuries in flyball dogs are seen in the shoulder and carpal joint from contact with the box.

Similarly, in sports such as conformation, tracking, lure coursing, canine disc, herding, dogs can experience muscle strain and injury from performing repetitive tasks, overloading specific muscle groups and traumas from collisions with equipment or slips.

Our companion dogs can also experience similar injuries. Consider the repetitive nature of ball chasing, catching a Frisbee, fence running, or running by the side of a bicycle. These activities can result in muscle and tendon injuries from overuse.

Effectiveness of manual therapy in treating repetitive strain injuries

A recent animal study with rats, tested the effectiveness of manual therapy (including soft tissue compression, skin rolling, kneading, stroking, stretching and joint mobilization) to prevent fibrosis and reduced function of the affected limb from overuse. The animals were taught a high repetition, high force task which they were required to perform 5 days / week for 12 weeks. The group receiving manual therapy were treated 5 days / week for the duration of the trial.

The key findings included the following:

  • Less behaviour changes – Rats receiving manual therapy showed little to no signs of discomfort or aggression during or after treatment.
  • Less discomfort performing tasks – Those rats receiving manual therapy showed a lower incidence of altered movement that would indicate discomfort of reduced function when performing high repetition, high force tasks. After three weeks of treatment, there were no signs of guarding or avoidance behaviours in any of the rats receiving manual therapy.
  • Enhanced performance – The performance of the rats receiving manual therapy over the course of the trial was significantly better than the control group that did not receive therapy. The number of task repetitions was higher in the manual therapy group and the limb strength increased in the manual therapy group also.
  • Decreased collagen deposition – Rats receiving manual therapy had less collagen deposition (scar tissue formation) than the control group. There are theories that fibrosis (excess connective tissue forming in response to injury) can affect the biomechanics of a limb as the excess tissue adheres to underlying structures and changes the way we are able to move. Further, fibrosis in tissue surrounding nerves can cause inflammation, compression and pain responses from compressed or irritated nerves. Additionally, when nerves are compressed, limb function can be affected due to compromised stimuli conduction.


This study concluded that applying manual therapy when symptoms of repetitive strain injury first present helps to:

  • prevent loss of function,

  • improve task performance
  • prevent behavioural changes due to pain and discomfort
  • decrease tissue fibrosis

How do you prevent repetitive strain injuries in your sporting or companion dog? Please leave a comment to share your health and exercise tips. Full Stride provides canine massage and remedial exercise therapy in Brisbane.

Until next time, enjoy your dogs.


Bove, G. M., Harris, M. Y., Zhao, H., & Barbe, M. F. (2016). Manual therapy as an effective treatment for fibrosis in a rat model of upper extremity overuse injury. Journal of the neurological sciences, 361, 168-180.

Daniel, K. (2014). Analysis of the biomechanics of dogs in New Zealand using the flygility box, resultant injuries, and recomendations to improve dog safety in flygility.

Levy, M., Hall, C. B., Trentacosta, N., & Percival, M. (2007). A survey of injuries occurring in dogs participating in agility. Clean Run, 71-73.