Cruciate Ligament Injuries

The cruciate ligaments are in the knee and act to stop the femur (top leg bone) and tibia (lower leg bone) from sliding excessively forwards and backwards. The cranial cruciate ligament and the caudal cruciate ligament cross over each other at ninety degrees, hence the name. The cranial cruciate ligament is often damaged by sudden jarring of the back leg by jumping or by wear and tear.

When this ligament tears it is very painful and when it ruptures completely it can no longer prevent excessive movement in the joint. Dogs typically present with “toe touching” as if their foot were sore, as bearing weight causes them to feel the pain in the knee. Some animals also damage their meniscus, a cartilage pad that provides cushioning between the femur and tibia which is also very painful.

Whilst a damaged meniscus generally needs surgery, the body is capable of repair of the ligament but it is difficult for this to happen in the face of movement (especially with bigger dogs) so an important part of dealing with these injuries is stabilising the joint and preventing movement. This can be done with various surgical techniques and also strict rest.

Even after surgery, which can be so elegant to restore function to a damaged knee, rest for 4 – 12 weeks after is an important part of ensuring that the surgery works and to minimise arthritis (joint protrusions that the body creates to try and help stabilise the joint but can be a source of pain).

During rehabilitation, a gradual return to exercise is important and avoiding movements that put strain on the knee like jumping, climbing stairs and running is imperative. Physiotherapy and hydrotherapy can be wonderful tools to assist recovery as can therapies like acupuncture, osteopathy, kinesiology, chiropractics and hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Providing optimal nutrition with wholesome food and avoiding excessive carbohydrates as well as chemicals and preservatives helps to support the body’s healing process. Weight management is also very important and feeding lower amounts is helpful for dogs that are inactive so that they don’t gain weight.

Other supportive aids include homeopathy, herbs like turmeric and nutrients like omega 3 fatty acids, glucosamine and proanthocyanidins.

With the right strategy, most animals heal beautifully and even though it can be a long haul to recovery, investing the time and effort to support optimal healing is well worth it in the long run.