What is an ACL injury in dogs?

What we commonly call an ACL injury in dogs is technically a CCL injury (craniate cruciate ligament). The Craniate Cruciate Ligament (known as the anterior cruciate ligament, or ACL, in humans) is a ligament in the knee of your dog and functions to stabilise the knee joint. Stretching, damage or rupture of the ligament results in instability of the knee joint. Instability of the knee joint leads to lameness, osteoarthritis and a possible tear of the knee cartilage (menisci). A tear of the knee cartilage is very painful and the response to pain medication is often unproductive. Surgery is generally necessary.

Why does my dog injure their CCL?

Unlike a ACL rupture in humans, a CCL rupture in dogs is seldom the result of a traumatic injury. In dogs, the ligment often degenerates over time and either partially or completely ruptures following high impact activities such as running or jumping. The cause of the degeneration in the ligament is unclear to this date. Theories include genetics, conformation and gait patterns. In some cases the rupture of the CCL is linked to an abnormality of the tibia (shin bone). Certain breeds are more commonly affected such as Labradors and Rottweilers. Generally, large and giant breeds are more prone to rupturing their CCL.

How we can help

ar2012Whether your vet suggests conservative management to manage your dog’s CCL injury (usually smaller breed dogs) or surgery (usually medium, large and giant breed dogs), we at Paws4Paws can help support your dog in their recovery in both cases. We take a multimodal approach, meaning we use a variety of modalities such as remedial massage techniques, myofascial pain release, acupressure, passive range of motion exercises as well as rehabilitative low impact strengthening exercises to support your dog in their recovery from their CCL injury and/or surgery.

In both cases your dog will experience muscle atrophy in the affected hind limb due to underuse which will subsequently lead to an altered gait to offload weight from the painful hind limb to other limbs (most severely affected is often the diagonally contralateral side). Weight shifting (compensation) means that other body parts work much harder than they are supposed to. Prolonged overload results in tight muscles and the development of spasms and painful trigger points. As tight muscles are prone to injury they are at risk of further damage. At Paws4Paws we help break the cycle of accumulative compensatory patterns that lead to secondary injuries. Most importantly, we aim to strengthen the atrophied hind limb so your dog does not have to rely on shifting weight onto other limbs.

We also discuss your dog’s exercise regime, provide you with a customised exercise plan (including videos of prescribed exercises) and assess your home environment to ensure your dog has the best possible chance of healing. We refer to other specialists such as hydrotherapists and acupuncturists if we feel your dog would benefit from these modalities. Further, we might refer you back to your vet for a reassessment of your dog’s pain management should we suspect your dog might be in pain.

There is evidence that your dog might develop arthritis after a cruciate ligament surgery (see 2012 research by Masakazu et al. and 2020 research by DeLuke et al.). If addressed in its early stages, arthritis can not only be managed but the degenerative disease can be slowed down. If you are interested in how we can help, please visit our page on arthritis therapy