Call 07 3633 0964


What is the cause of a “hump” in my dog’s spine?

17 Apr, 2020

I have written in the past about ways you can tell if your dog needs a myofunctional (massage) treatment. Signs may include a change in their gait (including limping), change in behaviour and / or performance and physical signs of injury such as swelling and heat.

For more on signs of injury please see

Another indicator we can add to this list is a visible change in the dog’s posture. Recently, a regular client asked me to treat one of her dogs. This dog had developed a noticeable “hump” or roach in their lower thoracic vertebrae. Additionally, this dog’s ability to perform some of his regular conditioning exercises had diminished.


When I visited, I observed that this dog was happy and jumping up on his back legs (his usual greeting behaviour). He showed no sign of pain or discomfort and was happy to be petted.

At a walking gait, there was a difference in the duration of the stance phase of the left and right hindlimbs. He spent slightly more time in the stance phase on the right hind limb than the left. Additionally, the extension of the left hip was limited compared with the right. Finally, the stride length on the left hind limb was shorter than on the right side.

Further, during a diagonal two legged stand, the dog’s ability to hold position on the left hind limb was limited.


The muscles attaching to the neck and right shoulder had greater tone than the contralateral muscles.

Palpation of the sacrum and left, lateral thigh and abdomen through to the vertebrae indicated sensitivity. Any touch in this region caused the dog to move away.

The muscle tone in the right lateral and median thigh was greater than the left.


Based on the observations and findings from palpation, the likely cause for the roaching in the spine was as a protective mechanism. When dogs are in pain or discomfort, they often adopt postures and gaits to avoid further insult to the injured area.

When muscle fibres or the fascia are injured, the dog’s body triggers an inflammatory response. The inflammatory response affects nerve endings causing them to become excitable. The high rate of motor nerve impulses cause the muscle fibres to contract resulting in the muscle being unable to relax.

The lower thoracic and lumbar regions are the attachment sites for muscles responsible for trunk flexion and stability as well as many muscles responsible for hip and hindlimb movement. When these muscles are injured, the prolonged muscle contracture will draw the muscle attachment sites on the vertebrae and pelvis closer together and cause a visible “hump” or roach.

The asymmetry in the muscle tone in the forelimbs indicated some compensation in the gait resulting in load being shifted diagonally to the right forelimb.

Treatment approach

The key objective of the treatment plan was to restore balanced muscle tone throughout the dog’s body and release the muscle contractures. In so doing, this would relieve discomfort, restore the dog’s normal posture and gait, and restore muscle strength and function.

Based on the level of sensitivity in the hindquarters, the treatment commenced on the neck and left forelimb. It progressed to the right forelimb where the increased muscle tone was addressed.

The treatment progressed along the dog’s right thorax and hindquarters. In the right hindquarters, the treatment focussed on restoring muscle tone and increasing blood circulation to the hindquarters generally. Increased circulation helps to loosen muscle fibres, supply nutrients and oxygen to the fibres, and remove waste and toxin build up.

The final stage of the treatment focussed on the left hand quarters. Initially, the focus was on increasing circulation and producing a relaxation response.

Several times, the dog needed to move away from the treatment. We allowed him to return when he was ready. As the muscle fibres loosened and the discomfort lessened, the focus of the treatment shifted to address the muscle contracture.

The entire treatment including record keeping, gait assessment, observations and palpation took 50 minutes.

After the treatment, the dog had a drink and his movement was visibly less frantic.

Full Stride provides remedial massage treatments for dogs. I work with dog owners who are seeking natural treatments to maintain their dog’s musculoskeletal health.

Until next time, enjoy your dogs.

Related articles:


Adams, R., White, B., & Beckett, C. (2010). The Effects of Massage Therapy on Pain Management in the Acute Care Setting. International Journal of Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork, 3(1), 4–11.

Bove, G. M., Delany, S. P., Hobson, L., Cruz, G. E., Harris, M. Y., Amin, M., … & Barbe, M. F. (2019). Manual therapy prevents onset of nociceptor activity, sensorimotor dysfunction, and neural fibrosis induced by a volitional repetitive task. Pain, 160(3), 632-644.

Catanzaro A, Di Salvo A, della Rocca G (2014) Neuropharmacology of Animal Pain: A Mechanism-Based Therapeutic Approach. J Vet Sci Med Diagn 3:1

Falkensteiner, M., Mantovan, F., Müller, I., & Them, C. (2011). The Use of Massage Therapy for Reducing Pain, Anxiety, and Depression in Oncological Palliative Care Patients: A Narrative Review of the Literature. ISRN Nursing, 2011, 929868.

Goats, G,C. (1994) “Massage-the scientific basis of an ancient art: Part 2. Physiological and therapeutic effects”, British Journal of Sports Medicine 28 (3) p153 – 156

Hourdebaight, Jean-Pierre 2004, Canine Massage: A complete reference manual 2nd edition, Dogwise Publishing, Wenatchee WA, USA

Lambert, L. 2016. “Muscle spasms and strains: musculoskeletal health.” SA Pharmacist’s Assistant, 16(3), 30-31.

MacFarlane, P.D, Tute, S.A & Alderson, B (2014) “Therapeutic options for the treatment of chronic pain in dogs”, Journal of Small Animal Practice (55) p127 – 134

Image by Wolfgang_Hasselmann from Pixabay