Changes at Homer Physical Therapy

Biosynchronistics – Subtle and Powerful

Click on the photo to enlarge itlibby BioSynch flyer

Good Dog! Good Back!

Folks with painful backs come into the office saying, “All I did was bend over and pick up my socks and my back went out”. Really? A pair of socks did this???

Likely, it wasn’t socks. More likely  it was years of strains and stresses absorbed by the body as the person twisted and bent repeatedly. This repeated movement often results in  over-worked localized areas of the back and minimized use of other areas better adapted for such motions. The socks were just the proverbial straw that broke the old camel’s back.

One repetitive activity that can contribute to the stress and strains absorbed by the body – especially the low back and shoulders — may come from walking the family dog. And if you think this is a problem limited to folks with big dogs – think again!

For most people who walk their dog on a leash, the problem comes from rotational forces being applied to the back and to a lesser degree “out in front” forces that pull the low back into an increased arch and often over stress the upper extremity on the side that holds the leash.  Often the dog walker has a preference for which hand holds the leash and which side of the road they walk on, hence the repetition.  If the dog pulls, regardless of size, asymmetric muscle work on one side of the body is required to accommodate these preferences. Over time, this asymmetric use adds up and lays a foundation for potential trouble. Here’s one way to think about the impact: the average dog may live nine or ten years and potentially takes one or two walks a day. This twisting, reaching and arching really adds up!

Small Dog Pull

>Big dog pull bad

Of course the bigger the dog, typically the bigger the force. (We say “typically” because there are small dogs that are allowed to really pull simply because their people know they can ultimately overpower their pull and in extreme cases, pick the dog up, so the owner doesn’t resort to any type of training.) If a big dog lunges at something along the walk, the strain may be sudden and excessive resulting in an acute trauma like a rotator cuff tear in the shoulder or fall on an outstretched hand resulting in a bone break. And this is just what can happen to the person walking the lunging dog – –  if the dog lunges and hits an unprepared bystander, head injuries, hip fractures, and more extensive back injuries can and do result.  

Here’s where physical therapy can help. Physical therapy is typically about finding internal methods to correct movement imbalances – think muscle activation, relaxing muscles – in cases like this however, external corrections are the best ways to fix physical problems. In this case, dog training may be a place to find a solution that solves your back and shoulder pain! Homer Dog Trainers offers classes that can help you and your pooch learn to work together, not only to make your walks more pleasurable, but also safer for you and others.

Med Dog HeelHere are some free physical therapy tips!

Other solutions to minimize the effects of pulling may include holding the leash close to your belly with both hands. This minimizes the twist created by holding the leash in one hand on one side. Holding the leash close to the body  is what we call working against a force in the “green zone”, where forces are generally less impactful on the body than those that require an outstretched arm — or longer lever arm —  and occur in the “red zone” where the forces are the most dangerous.  

Big D good pull

Another option is a  hands-free waist harness that allows the walker to attach the dog to a waistband via a leash. The force of a pulling dog is no longer primarily a rotational force, but rather an “out-in-front” force. If the dog pulls much, this may result in forward tipping of the pelvis and arching of the low back, unless the walker is well coordinated and conditioned. In this case, abdominal muscle firing will increase to counter the more centrally-located forward pull, minimizing the amount of arching of the low back.

There are different kinds of waist harnesses. For a “puller”, the small leash-width variety is probably not a good idea as the band will readily pinch into you as the dog pulls. These belts are ideal for someone who just wants to be connected to their dog for safety reasons or meeting local leash law requirements. If your dog is a puller, you can find thicker belt-type harnesses that are designed for the waistline. Rather than wear at the waistline, we recommend you wear them down on the pelvis. This small shift in distribution of forces results in less arching of the low back. The compression from the belt around the pelvis, in many cases, aides in the stability of the pelvis and low back by providing external support without interfering with joint movement. The ideal placement would be below the top of the bony pelvis, but above the hip joints; with pressure tight enough to keep it from slipping down, but not tight enough to be uncomfortable.

These tips could help keep you from injury.  Enjoy your walks with your dog!