Resistance / gait training
Walking in water is another great technique for building strength, establishing normal gait in a recovery process and assisting with returning joints to a normal range of motion.
The height of the water is a key factor for the focus of the benefit in this exercise.
When the water is shallow, your dog will tend to pick their feet up more. This encourages a full flexion of the knee and the elbow.
When the water is elbow or knee deep, the flexion is increased to maximal, as your pet lifts their limbs up and out of the water each step.
Increasing the water depth beyond elbow or knee and towards the shoulder and hip forces your pet to walk ‘through’ the water.
This can counteract gait abnormalities that develop as compensatory measures in the recovery of knee surgeries and injuries or in diseases such as osteoarthritis or hip dysplasia.
Circumduction is the name given to the gait when your pet ‘swings’ their back legs, rather than advancing them in line. A ‘circle’ is created by the path of the limb to the outside or lateral to your dog’s midline.
Walking in water prevents circumduction, because the water provides lateral pressure to the body. This water pressure provides a resistance that pushes against this compensatory movement. It then forces your pet to use the hip flexors instead of swinging the limb using spinal muscles.
Slow and steady is the key to improving a compensatory gait. Avoid bunny hoping or bounding through the water, or the inclination your pet may have to wander up into shallow water.
Walking in water is facilitated best in an underwater treadmill, where we have the opportunity to control all of these parameters.
If you don’t have access to an underwater treadmill, you can find some great locations in our local waterways to walk with your pet in water during their recovery, and waders might be a good idea in winter time!