In our last blog (What is fascia and is ‘myofascial release’ the secret to better canine health?) we delved into the exciting and emerging world of fascia. Fascia is basically akin to a spider’s web of soft tissue that is present throughout the whole of our body and is composed of various thicknesses depending on its role and situation. As a bodily structure it used to be ignored by anatomists and surgeons as a non-important substance. However it has now been discovered to be part of the body’s communication system both physically, by holding structures together, neurologically (nerve pathways) and physiologically (cellular activity).
To recap, fascia plays all these important roles:
it is interconnected and connects the whole body
it creates muscle to muscle activation by joining muscles together to form a functional kinetic chain, which creates collective strength and flexibility
fascia is considered to be a major factor concerning proprioception (awareness of the position and movement of the body as a whole)
fascia has the cellular capacity to compensate or adapt to different loads created by the body, by becoming thicker and less mobile if overused or less dense and thinner if underused, responding to the internal environment of the body’s physical capability.
Fascia is a fundamental element involved within a dog’s movement and mobility, basically joining-up the various sections of the dog’s body.
In this blog we are going to explore the importance of incorporating the knowledge of fascial connections within a rehabilitation programme. These fascial connections are vital for optimised movement, therefore their presence and role should equally be vital when working within a rehabilitation situation.
Fascia and Functional Movement
Within the body of the canine, there are functional fascial lines, which enable a dog to move through their functional movements such as walking, running, sitting, standing, turning etc. These fascial lines facilitate every day movements whilst supporting the whole body in a stable but flexible structure. If fascial lines are damaged or interrupted by soft tissue or skeletal issues, a dog’s movement, including their strength, stability (of the joints) and planes of movement will be affected causing dysfunctional movement patterns which could lead to future injuries.
Helping the body to repattern
By incorporating targeted functional exercises throughout a dog’s life from puppyhood, we can promote, maintain and enhance these fascial lines. For any form of rehabilitation, we should be offering the type of programme that focuses on reconnecting and enhancing fascial lines.
Galen Myotherapy treatments often include exercises and activities which form part of an effective rehabilitation programme that will help to reconnect and strengthen these fascial lines. We do this by incorporating a hands-on treatment and a targeted exercise programme to promote the dogs’ natural functional movement patterns. This type of rehabilitation programme is more widely used within the human world with stroke victims and people who have suffered life changing injuries. For example, neuro-animation has been designed to help remap a body using unconscious movement patterns. The use of unconscious natural functional movement is something that can be really effective and is utilised within Galen Myotherapy functional biomechanics.
How can we positively affect fascia through functional movement activities
Firstly, let's expand on what we mean by functional movement.
Functional movement involves all the different actions, conducted through different speeds and planes of movement, such as moving in straight lines, twisting and turning. It also includes free movement when a dog performs every day activities such as walking, trotting and running, as well as efficiently shaking themselves, or stretching (see blog).
Now let’s look at the types of exercises we can do with our dogs to help improve their functional movement. The aim of these introductory functional exercises is to encourage natural movements which a dog willingly undertakes. This means that the dog receives limited input or directional cues from their ‘humans’.
Throughout these exercises the additional aim is for your dog’s head to be held either in a natural position or down towards the ground and for their neck to be extended and moving fluidly, left and right and up and down.
Some of the most effectual, yet simple ways to achieve natural functional movement are:
An enriched environment
Below we’ve given you more information about how to do these fantastic yet simple exercises so you can do them with your dog at home with key observations to look out for. We hope you and your dog enjoy doing them together. Please share any videos or photos on Facebook or Instagram, we would love to see them!
If you would like to learn more about this subject, join us for our next webinar on 15th June:
Exercise 1: Food searches
This can be either all your dog’s food or just part of it (see note below).
Instructions: Scatter the food on the ground, either in one go, or several pieces at a time.
Ensure you don’t throw the food for your dog to ‘chase’ and see if you can encourage your dog to move in a slow and deliberate way.
Try not to direct your dog towards any of the pieces of food they have missed, and if possible, leave them to discover it for themselves.
Aim: To encourage head and neck extension which naturally facilitates engagement of muscles and fascia through the body. This exercise also helps to promote synovial fluid production from varied joint movement and enables enhanced proprioception, thereby joining up the whole dog, from nose to tail.
Additional information: This can be done either inside or outside, but ensure it is a safe place and on a non-slip surface. Never leave your dog unattended.
Exercise 2: Enriched environment
Instructions: This is similar to a food search, but with the addition of some small obstacles or challenges. You can hide food in these obstacles and challenges and you can use items such as:
Low cardboard boxes, using a variety of shapes, sizes and thicknesses
Scrunched up paper
Low lightweight poles made from plastic or bamboo
Other substrates such as:
Thin cushions (used as seat covers) it is not recommended to use large sofa type cushions
Try not to interfere or encourage your dog to a specific obstacle, but allow them to choose how and when to move.
Aim: By adding different sizes and types of boxes, it encourages the dog to look into or around the object, naturally inviting them to rotate their head and neck left and right by being inquisitive.
Additional information: This can be done either inside or outside, but ensure it is a safe place and on a non-slip surface. Please never leave your dog unattended and ensure that:
Your dog has a ‘way out’ from the environment and that they don’t feel trapped by too many items.
That they can move freely around from one object to another. It is important that the dogs can implement natural free flowing movement, with as few as possible stopping points.
Ensure no items are higher than your dog’s ‘wrist’ joint.
Whilst your dog is doing these exercises, there are a number of things you can look at which will give you lots of information about their muscular health and overall mobility:
Watch which way your dog turns, do they prefer to turn clockwise or anticlockwise?
Is there a way they turn more often?
Can they extend their neck forwards and reach to sniff and get food?
Does your dog move their whole body towards the food or can they reach forward with their head and neck to get to it instead?
Can they rotate their head equally to the right and left?
When they are moving around the exercise, does their body flow with their hind legs following the path of their forelimbs?
Are they happy to approach and investigate all new or novel objects (mind and body confidence)?
You can undertake any of these exercises daily, for a maximum of 5 minutes each.
Please remember that any exercises can have a negative impact if they are done excessively.
If you have any concerns about your dog's health, discomfort or mobility, please contact your veterinary surgeon.
Remember to account for the food in the searches from your dog’s daily allowance.
*It has been recommended to give your dog a small amount of food before they embark on a food search.
Please note: This is not a rehabilitation programme, this is a myofascial enhancing exercise.
If you’re looking for more advice or have concerns about your dog’s health, please get in touch with us. We would love to chat with you about how we can help your dog.