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The silent treatment...

When vet nurse and co-founder of Awesome Paws Agility, Trish Helme, noticed worrying changes in her five year old Working Cocker Epic, she immediately booked an appointment with canine massage therapist Sarah Darling for an initial assessment. She wondered if the process known as photobiomodulation could help Epic get back to the active sporting life she loved. Sarah Darling of K9 Gait Massage explains what happened next in this epic treatment.

On my first meeting Epic, I was taken aback by her love of life and high energy levels. Sadly, she was showing signs of stiffness which were affecting her performance. I totally understood that Epic, as a dog bred to work, needed the active life that Trish was giving her by being involved in an active sport. Just as human athletes need regular massage and re-alignment to balance and keep them in top condition, so do dogs!

Apart from channelling a dog's natural instincts, an active sport like agility releases energy proactively, reduces stress and boosts endorphins while, at the same time, building a huge bond with their human. Trish was the provider of fun, mental dexterity, team work and physical release. Without this, it is possible that Epic could internalise her pent-up energy and become reactive, destructive and possibly even depressed.

My initial observation
The first thing I noticed was that the sharp twists, turns, take-offs and concussive landings of agility seem to have taken their toll on Epic's conformation and gait. Her right forelimb was short striding. Her spine was laterally flexed (slightly banana-shaped) and was likely the cause from her repetitive movement of right spins. When stepping over cavalettis, she revealed a notable flexing of her spine.

Upon palpation, her right scapula was showing heat and inflammation. In fact, there was a great deal of thoracic soreness which may have incurred from the stresses of concussive landings, fast turns and navigating the weave poles.

I also discovered Epic was housing trigger points and spasms, especially over her thoracic trapezius and rhomboids. There was sensitivity in her right digits, her wrists were tight and restricted which can occur through hyperextending on landing after jumps. This in itself can lead to tensions and restrictions developing in the shoulders. Epic's adductor muscles were also inflamed and sensitive when touched.

Her lumbar and pelvis were very tight especially her hips flexors, which I see quite often due to compression on hard landing, fast take offs and overuse. Ensuring balance is key in muscle performance, as not only can this lead to premature fatiguing and reduced speed, but also injury and discomfort.

A bit about red light treatment...
With targeted sports massage, myofascial techniques and utilising my Photizo Vetcare device, a hand-held, red light therapy device, happily I was able to ease her trigger points, spasms and restrictions.

Over the past five years, I have been integrating the hand-held Vetcare into my practice, but I have to say that the new Silent version has been a game changer. It operates in exactly the same way as the original version, but without the beeps which signal when the 30 second pre-programmed dose has started and finished. This noise can disturb noise sensitive or hyper-sensitive dogs, so the silent version is now my 'go-to.'

It's really such an invaluable asset. Not only does it help to calm anxious dogs by cleverly stimulating endorphin release, but it promotes natural healing by promoting circulation and reducing inflammation to specific areas.

Whether it's torn, twisted or bruised muscles and allied soft tissues, the Vetcare harnesses the power of red and near-infrared light, using LED technology (Light Emitting Diodes), rather than laser light. This means no goggles are needed as LED light is no risk to the eyes.


Trish was very impressed with the Vetcare, especially in its ease of use and portability. She could immediately see Epic relax into her session very quickly. It helped facilitate some gentle exploration in her lumber and thoracic regions which were both sensitive, tight and sore.


Through the process known as photobiomodulation, the Vetcare delivers its pre-programmed 30 seconds evidence-based doses which stimulates a receptor in the mitochondria (cyctochrome C Oxidase stimulation) improving energy production (ATP), increasing circulation, reducing inflammation and other beneficial biological effects.


As the Vetcare was originally designed for use at home as well as in practice, it offers owners the chance to progress in-between physical therapy sessions. And yes, Trish did decide to purchase a Vetcare to benefit Epic.


After our initial consultation and sensitivities located, I recommended a further vet check, which showed a soft tissue shoulder injury and Epic was given anti-inflammatories to help ease discomforts. I advised strict on lead walks only! No agility practice initially for four weeks.


In addition, I provided Trish with a home management plan which consisted of exercises, massage and some specific mobilisation, release and stretch techniques, especially for the tension in her hip flexors, lumbar and thoracic regions.


I recommended the regular use of Vetcare on specific areas over Epic's muscles and joints, especially those areas that were regularly impacted through her activity. This also included her feet, as toes can be caught on obstacles during agility training and can become sore and potentially lead to further compensatory tensions and stresses manifesting.


I'm delighted to report that Epic has responded really well and is thriving. She continues to come for six-weekly check-ups to help maintain her muscle health and performance as a pocket rocket agility athlete. Trish regularly uses the Vetcare prior to a Epic's workout so as to promote muscle function and after her workout to aid in recovery and repair.

Trish Helme commented: 'I'm so happy Epic is back in tiptop condition, I was so worried. I take the Vetcare with me to all our competitions. I'm relieved as it means we're both enjoying the sport we love even more now that Epic's body is re-aligned with ultimate natural ability restored.'

About the author...
Sarah Darling, founder of K9 Gait Massage Therapy, transferred 23 years of experience in sports and remedial massage for humans, to dedicate her life and passion providing for the physical and mental wellbeing of dogs.

She operates in the Herefordshire, Shropshire and Powys areas and provides an integrated perspective combining canine massage therapy, photobiomodulation, strengthening and rehabilitation therapies along with lifestyle management. 

Sarah also hosts canine body awareness talks and beginner canine massage workshops to help owners reap the benefits in-between sessions at home.

Photos: Dog weaving - Sean Cameron. Other photos Sarah Darling

First published 20th June 2024



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