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Sophie’s story: ruptured cruciate ligaments

golden retrieverSophie is something of star twice over, having been referred to ARC twice. Just days before her scheduled first appointment for arthritis of the stifle ( knee) joint, she was unlucky enough to tear the cranial cruciate ligament in her right stifle. Rupture of the cranial cruciate ligament is one of the most common orthopaedic injuries of the dog world and one we see very regularly. It’s devastating news to every dog owner’s ears, and we often receive patients whose owners think they’ll never walk properly again. The good news is that while a serious injury, these days it is one which can be effectively treated in the majority of cases. After surgery to stabilise the joint, Sophie visited ARC to rebuild the muscles of her thigh (which are vital to support the joint but which waste away lightning fast after this sort of injury) as well as improve the flexibility of her arthritic joint.

A smart cookie, Sophie doesn’t really see why you should do repetitions of exercises you got right the first time…..so we all had to think laterally! Sophie’s owners were extremely dedicated in finding ways to make sure the movements she needed to make regularly were incorporated into her walks so she didn’t spot that she was doing her exercises anyway, and she built up her progress in the underwater treadmill from first tentative steps via uphill walking until finally she was running in the water- no mean feat.

Sophie made a great recovery but then came a blow: in the horrible weather this past winter, she fell badly on the ice. Virtual experts by now, Sophie’s owners knew straight away what had happened- she’d torn the ligament in her other stifle. Straight to the vets they went, and within a few days she was back up on all four legs after a second surgery. Old hands at rehab by now, Sophie’s owners hit the ground running and had even kept notes from her first injury. In the absence of nasty osteoarthritis pre-dating this tear, Sophie’s progress was even quicker the second time around, and she was quite the professional athlete in her rehab exercise.

Sophie is now taking 5 mile walks and running with her pals at the beach again. Many people mistake her for a much younger dog, and everyone at ARC is as delighted as her owners to hear that in their opinion, Sophie is better than she’s been for years. The future for Sophie is not entirely plain sailing as the arthritis in her stifle cannot be cured, and some arthritis resulting from the injury to her other joint is inevitable. However, the time spent in rebuilding her leg muscles until even stronger than before, making sure the scar tissue around the joints is minimal and of good quality so that the range of motion (amount she can bend and straighten the joint) is fully regained will stand her in excellent stead to protect her joints from instability and painful jarring forces and help her manage the arthritis for minimal impact. Furthermore, this sort of damage to the joints seriously affects the patient’s proprioception- the ability of the brain to know where the joint is relative to the brain and the rest of the body, and what sorts of forces are acting on it. Unless work is done to get this information system running smoothly again, the patient is prone to clumsiness and tripping, which can lead to further injury. All too often overlooked, it’s an important part of rehabilitation from this sort of injury. Sophie’s got it taped though, and even the shifting surface of a sandy beach poses no problem to her now.

Sophie will need to keep her leg muscles strong and make sure she does plenty of exercise that keeps her stifle joints bending fully and challenges her awareness of what her legs are doing. Regular, controlled exercise is the key- no winter off-season for her! If her arthritis should flare up, her owners know what to do to help settle it quickly, and can be confident that they’re doing everything that they can to help her stay mobile and active.