Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs – How Acupuncture & Acupressure Help Dogs With Elbow Pain

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Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs is a group of multiple disorders in the cartilage and surrounding structures of the elbow joint. These developmental disorders are named as fragmented medial coronoid process (FCP), ununited anconeal process (UAP), osteochondritis dissecans (OCD), and elbow incongruity. While dogs affected by elbow pain are in need of veterinary treatment acupressure can be used to alleviate the symptoms.

What is Elbow Dysplasia?

Elbow dysplasia is hereditary but is also associated with rapid growth and a high-energy diet. Large breed dogs tend to be affected. Examples are:

  • German Shepherds
  • Basset Hounds
  • Saint Bernhards
  • Bernese Mountain Dogs
  • Labrador Retrievers
  • Newfoundlands
  • Australian Shepherds

However, elbow dysplasia could be seen on rare occasions in smaller breeds.

In this condition, the elbow suffers structural defects related to the cartilage. First starts with gradual degradation of the joint causing chronic pain. Unfortunately, it later develops in inflammation and osteoarthritis causing further problems. 

Osteochondritis dissecans (OCD) occurs when there is failure of endochondral ossification or osteochondrosis leading to cartilage thickening and fissure formation. Factors that predispose this are such as diet, rapid growth, hormonal imbalance, trauma and genetics. As a consequence, you will also see UAP and FCP.

When there is joint incongruity, leading to increased pressure on the anconeus, it is known as UAP. Now the underlying pathophysiology of FCP is unknown but is believed to be secondary to elbow incongruity or a form of osteochondrosis. 

Signs of Elbow Dysplasia in Dogs

Signs tend to show up in dogs between 6 and 9 months of age. FCP may be present in older dogs with degenerative joint disease. They often present with a history of limping on one or both forelimbs which will worsen during exercise. Dogs with bilateral elbow problems might not be limping bur present with stiffness in both front legs. On palpation of the limbs, you will see expressions of pain and discomfort. Often pet owners notice a reluctance to play or take long walks.

Diagnosis of Elbow Dysplasia

Taking radiographs of the elbow is the standard means of diagnosing this condition. However, there are times you will not see changes on x-rays with early signs so the clinician will require the use of advanced imaging like nuclear scintigraphy, CT, MRI, and ultrasonography. If lesions are not identified with the mentioned tools, arthroscopy may help identify subtle lesions.

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Treatment of Elbow Dysplasia

At identification of symptoms in the elbow, the veterinarian will prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to treat the pain. Exercise will be restricted to short leash walks for 4-6 weeks. Then a referral to a veterinary surgeon is considered for further evaluation. 

In persistently lame dogs with elbow dysplasia, treatment tends to involve removal of UAP FCP or OCD which will result in an improvement in limb movement. When there is elbow incongruity, surgery to improve congruity will help minimize ongoing damage to the joint. However, once the degenerative joint disease starts it will progress in this condition.  

Rehabilitation after Surgery

A personalized rehabilitation program is as important as successful surgery in achieving a satisfying long-term outcome. But rehabilitation doesn’t only play a major role in surgical cases, it’s beneficial effects should not be underestimated in conservatively managed cases too.

  • Laser therapy can help to reduce swelling and pain after surgery. It also stimulates healing processes.
  • Physiotherapy helps to strengthen the musculature and improves joint mobility.
  • Acupuncture can alleviate pain and promotes healing. It can also help to relax tight musculature, which is a constant source of pain
  • Hydrotherapy helps to strengthen your dog’s musculature without putting too much load on the affected joints.
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Elbow Arthritis

Unfortunately, many dogs will develop osteoarthritis in spite of surgical intervention. Some studies even come to the conclusion that the development of arthritic changes do not differ between surgical and non-surgical cases.

Osteoarthritis is one of the most commonly diagnosed medical conditions in our canine companions. The disease which is also known as degenerative joint disease (DJD) leads to restricted movement and mobility issues. When a dog is diagnosed with osteoarthritis, it means that the affected joint is in a state of chronic inflammation and pain.

Complementary Therapies for Secondary Elbow Arthritis

Osteoarthritis is a progressive disorder. Even today no cure has been found to stop the disease process entirely. As arthritis can’t be cured we have to learn how to manage it to make our dog’s life as comfortable as possible.

Here is what we can do to alleviate the symptoms of elbow arthritis:

  • Weight loss is the easiest and most powerful way to treat arthritis. A 9% reduction in body mass will significantly improve mobility in an overweight dog.
  • Omega 3 fatty acids have been proven to have an anti-inflammatory effect and should be given long-term.
  • Acupuncture helps to bring down inflammation and reduces pain levels.
  • Physiotherapy and Hydrotherapy help to improve joint mobility.
  • Home and Exercise Modifications are essential to avoid re-injury and give your dog the best possible quality of life.

Acupressure Points to Treat Elbow Pain

Acupressure Points for Elbow Pain in Dogs
  • LI 10 – 2 cun below the elbow joint between the two muscle bellies.
  • LI 11 – just below the elbow joint, cranial to an easily palpable bony prominence.
  • LI 04 – between the 1st (dewclaw) & 2nd finger.
  • GV 14 – on the midline in front of the first (easily palpable) 1st thoracic vertebra.
  • SI 09 – in a large depression between 2 muscle bellies (deltoid m. & triceps m.)

Further Recommendations

  • Restrict exercise! Controlled walking & trotting on the lead only. No running, jumping and starts & stops.
  • Elevate food and water trays.
  • Provide comfortable bedding.
  • Massage shoulder to elbow joint for 45 seconds.
  • Push with a single thumb from LI 10 to LI 11 for 15-30 seconds.

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– Felix

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