Introduction to Rehabilitation and Integrative Medicine

Integrative medicine combines aspects of conventional medicine with alternative medicine for disease treatment or prevention.   Although laser therapy, acupuncture, rehabilitation, etc. are still sometimes considered “alternative medicine”, I prefer the term complementary medicine because these approaches are becoming more common and have a continually growing amount of evidence ba sed support.  Additionally, the term “alternative” implies “instead of” and I believe that these methods usually work best in conjunction with other, more conventional therapies rather than used in place of these.  Physical rehabilitation in particular is a rapidly growing area of veterinary medicine and can be applied to improve the overall wellness of most any animal, regardless of age and medical status.

Physical rehabilitation is synonymous to physical therapy in the human world and uses many methods to help reduce pain, improve function, and balance the overall animal.  In my practice, I do not generally prescribe drugs or use traditional medical approaches, but rather work with your family veterinarian to develop a well-rounded treatment plan for your pet.  With this approach, we can often improve pain levels and strength enough to eventually decrease the dose or frequency needed for pain medications.  This can be especially important for animals with concurrent disease for which some pain medications are contraindicated or higher risk.

Some of the most commonly used integrative therapies in the field of physical rehabilitation are:

  • Laser therapy
  • Acupuncture (dry needles, electro-acupuncture, and aqua-puncture)
  • Therapeutic massage and other manual therapies
  • Therapeutic exercises
  • Modalities such as electrical stimulation (TENS, NMES), therapeutic ultrasound
  • Whole food supplements, nutraceuticals, herbal formulas

My general approach to integrating a physical rehabilitation plan into an animal’s life is to first perform an evaluation of the animal to determine their functional status and establish some goals with the owner.  This evaluation is similar to the wellness exam given by your regular veterinarian, but focuses more on identifying musculoskeletal and/or neurologic abnormalities and functional challenges.  It is, however, very important to have regular wellness exams performed by your family veterinarian to rule out diseases which can often look like musculoskeletal problems to the untrained eye.  For example, dogs with hypothyroidism may show signs of lethargy and weight gain, which can often be mistaken simply as “old age” or inactivity due to arthritis, etc.  It is very important to have any concurrent diseases diagnosed and controlled prior to beginning a rehabilitation program in order to have the best outcome.

Another important part of the evaluation is to discuss and establish goals for the patient.  The owner’s abilities and needs are one of the most important factors to take into consideration when setting goals.  Sometimes these goals are based on needs from a functional standpoint, such as an owner who needs their pet to be able to go up and down stairs to get outside or to a bedroom.  Other common goals are simply to help control pain, improve quality of life, and improve mobility.

The last part of the evaluation is to work with the owner to form a treatment plan to include both treatments performed by me as well as a home exercise plan for the owners to do on a daily basis.  This plan is very unique to each situation and takes into consideration not only the findings from our exam and the animal’s needs, but also the needs and abilities of the owner.  For example, our plan will be very different for pet owners with time restrictions or physical disabilities, than for those who are able to contribute more time to a home program.

Starting with next week’s post, we will start to explore some of the available treatment options and take a look at how these options can be integrated into your pet’s current treatment plan and how they work.

Feel free to contact us with any questions or comments!