What is Passive Range of Motion Physical Therapy?

Passive range of motion (ROM)  physical therapy is the act of manually moving the limbs in a natural motion. The passive range of motion physical exercise stretches the affected limb, prevents muscles from contracting while maintaining a limber state. Passive ROM therapy can benefit arthritic dogs, those recovering from surgery and canines combating the effects of severe muscle atrophy. Passive ROM therapy is usually conducted by a specialist veterinarian, known as a veterinary physical therapist. 

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Passive Range of Motion Physical Therapy Procedure in Dogs

Passive ROM physical therapy exercises for dogs are generally performed with the dog in lateral recumbency (lying on the left side). The dog is laid on a flat, soft surface on the ground, holding each position for approximately 10 seconds each. The limb will be maintained in a parallel position in relationship to the body, therefore, inadvertent joint torque is avoided. Hyperextension of the tarsus and carpus can cause permanent joint damage, therefore, extreme care is required throughout the procedure. 

Passive Range of Motion Exercises:

Forelimb Flexion 

  • The forelimb is grasped, placing one hand below the dog’s elbow and the other below the carpus joint. 
  • The dog’s elbow is gently moved towards the body, flexing the shoulder and following the distal joints until the dog’s limb is in a total flexed position.

Shoulder & Elbow Extension 

  • The vet’s lower hand will be placed on the shoulder joint, while the upper hand gently pushes the dog’s elbow until the limb achieves a full extension. 
  • Proper position will result in the forearm resting level with the dog’s nose considering the head is resting at a 90 degree angle. 

Shoulder Flexion - Elbow Extension 

  • Using one hand placed just above the dog’s carpus, the vet will guide the limb back to the hind limb until the front toes touch the stifle joint on the rear leg. The other hand will be placed on the dog’s shoulder to maintain a controlled movement. 

Shoulder Abduction 

  • The vet will place one hand on the dog’s medial humerus and the other on the lateral shoulder. 
  • The dog’s elbow will be gently abducted to allow the pectoral muscles to stretch. 

Hind Limb Flexion 

  • The vet will grasp the hind limb with one hand below the stifle and the other below the hock. The stifle is brought toward the dog’s body, as the hock is brought to the ischium, and the metatarsals are pulled towards the tibia to achieve full flexion. 

Hip Flexion – Stifle Extension 

  • The dog’s limb will be moved forward, as the vet’s lower hand will be placed on the hock while the upper hand in placed just anterior to the stifle joint. 
  • The hind toes will touch the front limb and the hamstring will achieve a full stretch. 

Hip and Stifle Extension 

  • The vet will place his/her lower hand on the dog’s hock, while placing the upper hand just anterior to the stifle joint to guide the back limb back towards the rump. 

Hip Abduction 

  • The hip and stifle of the dog will be relaxed as the vet places one hand along the medial femur and tibia. He or she will gently abduct the stifle to achieve a pectineal muscle stretch. 

Exercises are performed two to six times daily or as recommended by a veterinary professional. 

Efficacy of Passive Range of Motion Physical Therapy in Dogs

The goal of passive range of motion physical therapy exercises is to improve and maintain a canine’s range of motion. Passive range of motion also aids in promoting healthy joint functionality and proprioception. Passive range of motion physical therapy benefits patients in reducing pain, promoting healing, restoring and maintaining range of motion in joints, and building muscle mass following surgery or after an injury. 

Passive Range of Motion Physical Therapy Recovery in Dogs

Passive range of motion physical therapy is a form of recovery in itself. The duration a dog is to carry out physical therapy exercises depends greatly on the condition for which the dog was referred for rehabilitation. Dogs with long-term degenerative diseases, such as arthritis, may never recover and will require physical therapy for the duration of their lives. 

Cost of Passive Range of Motion Physical Therapy in Dogs

The cost of passive range of motion physical therapy in dogs depends on the specific case and how many sessions are required. One session could cost a dog owner anywhere from $50-$75, and the entire therapy period could cost roughly $500-$1,500. 

Dog Passive Range of Motion Physical Therapy Considerations

The benefits of passive range of motion therapy for dogs are endless, but therapy will not cure a dog of the underlying ailment. Physical therapy is sometimes a life-long treatment method for some dogs and will require a full-time commitment from the dog owner.

Passive Range of Motion Physical Therapy Prevention in Dogs

Passive range of motion physical therapy is used for many conditions that affect a canine’s ability to conduct regular movements. Many conditions, like hip dysplasia for example, are genetic and cannot be prevented. However, trauma-induced conditions, such as hit-by-car accidents, can be prevented with simple safety precautions.