Can shockwave therapy help canine back pain?

April 14, 2021

Morris Animal Foundation-funded researchers at The Ohio State University (OSU) have launched a pilot study to evaluate the use of extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) as an affordable way to treat lower back pain in dogs. Photo courtesy OSU/Morris Animal Foundation[1]
A German shepherd receives extracorporeal shockwave therapy from a veterinarian at The Ohio State University.
Photo courtesy OSU/Morris Animal Foundation

Dogs with chronic lower back pain may soon see relief, thanks to a non-invasive treatment method currently being tested at The Ohio State University (OSU).

Morris Animal Foundation-funded researchers at OSU have launched a pilot study to evaluate the use of extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT) as an affordable way to treat lower back pain in dogs.

The therapy, which has previously been tested in canines to stimulate bone healing and manage shoulder tendon injuries, involves the delivery of soundwaves to damaged soft tissue to lessen pain and accelerate healing, Morris Animal Foundation says. The treatment has been shown to significantly improve back pain in both humans and horses.

“We really don’t have any objective evidence at all for this treatment yet, but if it is effective for pain management, it could really make a difference in these patients’ lives,” says Nina Kieves, DVM, DACVS, DACVSMR, CCRT, assistant professor of small animal orthopedic surgery at OSU.

To test the therapy’s effectiveness in canines, researchers at OSU will look at a group of 20 adult, large-breed dogs with lower back pain. Participants will receive X-rays to ensure their pain is a result of a spine or disc issue and not due to cancer or bone infections. The dogs will also receive an initial physical exam to evaluate their gait.

Once baseline data is collected, each dog will receive three ESWT treatments administered at two-week intervals.

Improvements will be evaluated, primarily, on questionnaires and observations from the animals’ owners. Additionally, researchers will perform a second physical exam once all therapy sessions are complete and re-evaluate the dogs’ gait.

“Right now, we are limited to oral medications or invasive injections into the spinal area, so this could hopefully be an additional treatment option for these dogs,” Dr. Kieves says.

Lower back pain is a leading cause of discomfort and early retirement in working dogs that assist in military and police functions, Morris Animal Foundation says. It also affects other nonworking large breeds, such as Labrador retrievers.

While existing treatments can help, as many as 30 per cent of canine patients continue to experience recurring symptoms.

“Lower back pain is a lesser known but significant cause of discomfort for many dogs, and this therapy has the potential to improve their quality of life,” says Morris Animal Foundation’s chief scientific officer, Janet Patterson-Kane, B.VSc., PhD, FRCVS. “If these results are promising, this work could provide veterinarians with another evidence-based tool to use for pain management, complementary to other pain reduction strategies.”

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