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Currently, professional human athletes are benefiting from the use of laser (photobiomodulation) therapy delivery platforms. In fact, more and more professional sport franchises and Olympic teams are utilizing this modality to not only treat performance-related injuries, but to enable improved performance while minimizing potential tissue damage.

Laser Therapy for Canine Athletes Bog Post Image 2There is a growing number of performance athletes in the canine world, in multiple disciplines such as agility, fly ball, and Shutzhund, to name a few popular ones. These canine athletes deserve the same amount of respect and care as their human counterparts. A performance athlete will by definition face a greater risk of event-related tissue injury due to excessive or extended demand of use.

The therapy laser will be beneficial in several stages around an athlete’s performance schedule. In order to set up the tissues for success, it is beneficial to treat the patient prior to a performance event. This preemptive approach is imperative when the individual has a history of specific performance-related injuries, as there will be a predisposition for potential injury. If the event involves demanding activity, such as with agility courses, it is best to do this treatment a day prior to the event. This timeframe will allow for the tissues to fully respond to the cascade of events that happen with photobiomodulation therapy. However, when dealing with a more restrained performance of a slower tempo, such as with dressage, it may be better to do this treatment just prior to the event so that we benefit from the ensuing neural blockade and endorphin release to allow for a cool, calm, collected ability to deliver.

Laser Therapy for Canine Athletes Bog Post Image 1It is wise to provide post-event treatment as well. Even if the individual did not sustain any visible tissue injury, it makes sense to treat these sites since these structures have been worked excessively and been subjected to a higher demand of function. Inevitably, there is always some level of post-event tissue inflammation with such events, so it is important to treat after each event. A single treatment is sufficient to maintain a sound athlete, but a short course of treatments may be needed if there was an actual injury sustained during the performance. If an acute injury happens mid-event, the patient’s injuries should be treated as soon as possible.

Human athletes receiving this modality have shown an ability to perform better, with increased endurance and less injury. The canine performance athlete can benefit in a similar fashion, and should be offered the benefits that photobiomodulation therapy will provide.

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Previously, we have looked at a general treatment approach, as well as treatment frequency for acute conditions in particular. Here, we will look further into treating chronic conditions. As opposed to acute conditions where our goal is resolution, the goal in treating chronic conditions is essentially to prevent an active decline with an incurable condition.

A complete recent physical examination is crucial when addressing a chronic condition, as it is likely that there have been compensatory changes in secondary or even tertiary biomechanically associated sites. For example, lumbar spine degeneration and iliopsoas muscle strain are often seen with the primary issue being degenerative joint disease of the pelvic limb (like with CCL rupture). Thus, a recent physical exam is a must as the progression of chronic disease can be quite dynamic and multifaceted. Not addressing all of the patient’s areas of pain or discomfort may lead to unsatisfactory results and difficulties managing client expectations. The natural progression of arthritis can be better assessed and addressed by reading and understanding the subtle symptoms that the patient develops as their condition continues to deteriorate.

It is just as important for the laser operator to have a thorough knowledge base in anatomy. Using the iliopsoas as an example, the operator must be able to visualize the target structure, from its origin at the lumbar spine to its insertion point at the lesser trochanter of the femur. The same principle applies to skeletal structure and neural pathways.

Elderly Dog Arthritis Treatment_SmallThe third important aspect of treating chronic conditions lies in setting realistic goals and expectations prior to initiating a treatment regimen. Age is not a disease, but it is a consideration. Each case will have individual factors, which will be taken into account when establishing these goals. The adept operator will keep in mind that geriatric patients have a slower rate of response to therapy, partly due to a slower metabolic rate, but also potentially due to concomitant disease.

Primarily, promoting quality of life via a sustained palliative response is always the primary goal. Secondly, it is our long-term expectation to be able to prevent an active decline by slowing the progression of the disease. Lastly, we may also be able to taper pharmaceuticals or even discontinue them. There are so many unique factors that each case must be handled as a separate entity.

Once these three factors have been addressed, we can proceed with a complete picture and a common goal for the case. Typically, a chronic condition will need an extended induction (or initial) phase of treatments. This induction phase is usually around 6 treatments, but with these cases, it may extend up to 9 or 12 treatments before an effective and sustained clinical response is seen.

Unless the patient is in established pain, an every other day frequency is typically applied when starting laser therapy for these cases. Once significant clinical improvement is seen, the operator should consider tapering the treatment frequency so as to promote a continued response. In this fashion, the patient is expected to undergo several treatment phases, from frequent “induction”, to less frequent “transition”, and then long term “maintenance” phase treatments.

Elderly Dog Arthritis Treatment 2_SmallSometimes, a client will report the patient seemed a little stiff after the first few treatments. Although this may seem unsettling, this is actually an encouraging sign of active tissue remodeling taking place. Remember, part of the cascade of events that happens with photobiomodulation is vasodilation and angiogenesis. It can be easily explained to the client by making the analogy of blood flow returning to a foot after it went numb from kneeling for too long. This is similar to the “pins & needles” feeling we get with reperfusion of tissues after an ischemic event. When noted, it should be transient and low grade, and is usually seen early after initiating the modality. If it is not seen, that does not mean that the patient is not responding effectively, it just means each patient is an individual and not a statistic.

As the patient progresses through treatment phases, we are able to maintain a clinical response while periodically tapering on the frequency of treatments. It is important for the client to be aware that regardless of the current treatment schedule, they are to return as soon as possible if there are any setbacks or sudden decline. Photobiomodulation offers the operator a certain flexibility in order to enable not only a long-term response, but be able to address acute to chronic events as well.

Many patients will benefit from long-term photobiomodulation therapy. Our patient base will also continually grow as we enable longer life spans via the advancements in the medical field. The savvy laser operator will also be dedicated to keeping an eye out for patients predisposed to arthritic changes, such as working dogs/athletes, chronic NSAID/opioid users, breed predisposed for DJD, patients with surgical implants or a history of traumatic injuries, etc.

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As previously discussed, an individual approach in designing treatment frequency will yield optimal results when incorporating photobiomodulation into standard of care. Thus, it is important to remember that we must be flexible in our treatment delivery and remain fluid as the patient responds to medical care.

In past years, the “3-2-1” approach showed good results, but it is clear that taking an individual approach in treatment delivery yields optimal results. With this treatment approach, the patient received three treatments the first week, two the second week, and one final treatment the third week. Although this approach will yield results, it is not an optimal approach as it allows no flexibility in treatment delivery.

Acute conditions should be approached with resolution as our final goal. Examples would include a laceration, an abscess, a muscle sprain, etc. The primary goal, regardless of the condition, is always pain relief, but the biggest value in utilizing photobiomodulation is the fact that tissues are also physically being remodeled to return to function. With resolution as our final goal, the patient is expected to undergo a short course of treatments to reduce the convalescence period.

As with any condition, the patient must be assessed comprehensively and all factors be taken into account so as to set out reasonable expectations. A superficial condition like a laceration would benefit from a single treatment, much like many clinics are performing a single post-op treatment on spays/neuters, etc. as part of their multimodal approach to pain management.

Healed Hot Spots Article ScreenshotSome acute conditions may benefit from a short series of treatment when there is a larger surface area of tissue disruption, such as with hot spots. These will respond nicely when incorporating photobiomodulation daily to every other day for a handful of treatments.

In some cases, conditions may benefit from even more frequent treatments. For example, patients in intractable pain despite standard of care (NSAID, opioids, CRI, etc.) need a more assertive delivery schedule. These patients are so debilitated that they are usually hospitalized, offering the caretaker the opportunity to treat as often as needed. Such cases could include pancreatitis, FLUTD, HGE, snake bite, severe degloving wounds, etc. In this instance, the patient may require multiple treatments daily to address for this pain. Photobiomodulation offers this flexibility to deliver two or even three treatments daily if the patient requires this amount of care. Once an effective clinical response is noted, we can then consider tapering the treatment frequency.

The frequency of treatment remains an area where photobiomodulation offers the operator the flexibility to address the patient’s needs and their conditions as individuals. As such, there is no “cookie cutter” approach to this – it is best addressed as per the patient’s presenting condition and ensuing glide path of response.

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