Hypermobility in dogs – part 2

Nicky Grant BSc Hons Physiotherapy, MSc Veterinary Physiotherapy, MSCP, HCPC, ACPAT A, RAMP

Welcome to part 2 of the hypermobility blog 🙂 If you are new to Win Agility and you haven’t read part 1 I would suggest having a read of that and then coming back to join us in part 2.
So we’ve talked about the physiology of hypermobility, the key points being that the ligaments around the joints are stretchier allowing more movement in a joint than normal. We can’t change the ligaments, we can’t change how stretchy they are or the physiological make up of the ligaments. We also can’t consciously control ligaments, we can’t get them to contract and relax. For this reason we term them passive structures, passive in that they are what they are, they don’t contract or relax and don’t respond to instructions from us.
So what else is there that can effects joints? Yep you’ve guessed it muscles!! Muscles are key tissues involved in controlling the movement of joints, they can move a joint, stop a movement, keep a joint static under tension, move joints fast, slow and play a vital role in stability. A vital point about muscles is that we can control them.
So this sounds really simple doesn’t it, just get the muscles really strong, sorted! Well, unfortunately it’s not as simple as that. One of the often missed components when looking at conditioning is the neuromotor system, the control panel to the muscles. It is well and good having the strongest muscles in the world but if it doesn’t switch on and off at the right time they are pretty much useless! The neuromotor system is a feedback and a feed forward system, what I mean by this is that information is passed forwards and backwards constantly from muscles, back and forward via the central nervous system, incorporating the spinal cord, peripheral nerves and the brain.
It is vital that muscles turn on and off at the right time and stay on for the right period of time. An example of this is highlighted in a paper that compared gluteal activation in runners who had Achilles tendonopathy compared to those that didn’t (Franettovich et al, 2014). Gluteal activation was measured using EMG (electromyogram) during over ground running. The results showed that in runners with Achilles tendonopathy their gluteal muscles were not only delayed in switching on but also stayed switched on for a shorter period of time compared to the control group of runners that didn’t have achilles tendonopathy. Now this research doesn’t state cause and effect, it doesn’t say whether the gluteal dysfunction is a cause or an effect of the achilles tendonopathy but it does suggest there is significant benefit in addressing the neuromotor control of the gluteals in individuals who have achilles tendonopathy and that there is a link in the kinetic chain between the gluteals which are at the side of the hips to the ankle!
Hypermobility challenges the neuromotor system because it can give slightly impaired information on where joints are in space and the requirement of the muscles. This means that we have to work extra hard with hypermobile dogs to optimize the input to the neuromotor system, to optimize their joint position sense, to help them adopt better postures and move better. All of these things are really important to any dog, especially agility dogs but to our hypermobile friends this requirement is crucial.
So how do we teach neuromotor control to our dogs, well we do it with structured, targeted and appropriate exercise. How you carry out an exercise is crucial, those that know me know what a complete bore I am when it comes to form, form is king, the reason, every micro movement your dog makes, the position of the paw, the position of the shoulder in relation to the foot inputs in to the neuromotor control loop and will effect the output. This is where it is really important to engage in an appropriately qualified professional to help you with this, the small things really do make a big difference.
So, looks like there may need to be a part 3 to this blog where I can discuss my experiences of managing hypermobile dogs with relation to agility. However, there may be a little wait for part 3 as I am off on my honeymoon but part 3 will be coming. Hope you enjoyed this blog, please feel free to comment and share.

Franettovich Smith MM1, Honeywill C, Wyndow N, Crossley KM, Creaby MW. (2014).Neuromotor control of gluteal muscles in runners with achilles tendinopathy Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014 Mar;46 (3):pp: 594-9.

Leave a Reply