Limited Exercise Fallout: Downside of Exercise Restrictions

Strict rest or restricted exercise is essential to injury recovery. But limiting activity comes at a price.

With limited use, muscle strength dwindles and strong muscles help stabilize and protect joints. As your dog is recovering from one injury, it can make them more susceptible to a new one.

Limited Exercise Fallout: Downside of Exercise Restrictions

Cookie’s story

Cookie’s recovery from iliopsoas injury was going well. She was getting better and better, could go on longer walks, we started some functional exercises. Before Christmas, we discussed with her physical therapist how much walking she could safely do because we always celebrated Christmas with long special walks.

Return to moderate walks

Cookie was cleared for moderate-length walks.

She did great with them even though there was a lot of excitement involved. We originally planned two medium walks on the Christmas day but because of all the enthusiasm we decided to do just one and the rest her “normal” rehab walks around the house, looking for critters.

Everything went well. And the New Year came with some more fresh snow.

Very fluffy snow, the kind Cookie loves the most. And that’s when she lost it. Our walksies went well, she was busy looking for mice. Our New Year’s special, longer walk went well too. Later that day she asked to go potty, so I took her.

The zoomies

Cookie did her business, did a quick check on the critters, and then, between the fresh snow and cold air, the brain left the building. She broke into full-blown zoomies.

Yes, she was on the leash. But I’m not sure if she’d been better off free. As much as I was trying to get her focus and calm down, she was flailing at the end of the leash like a kite in a hurricane. In the process, she even fell. I’m not sure whether she lost her footing in the snowdrift or whether there was something under the snow that caused it. It didn’t slow her down, though.

Eventually, I was able to get her to calm down and bring her back in the house.

Yes, she’s still on the Trazodone.

And it has kept her sane throughout the recovery. In the house, she does quite well. Until the fresh snowfall, she was doing well. But the drug was no match for the combination of very cold weather and fresh fluffy snow. At least not at the dose she’s been on.

Apparently, the effect slowly decreases over time and the dose needs adjusting. Which we did. But not enough. Not for that.

Reduced weight-bearing

When Cookie came in I noticed she was shifting weight off her hind left foot a little bit.

We checked the foot and didn’t find anything. It was just ever so little so we didn’t think too much of it.

After a bit of rest, though. she got up now fully lame on that leg. Not again …!

Yeah, again. We were most worried about her knee and about the recovering iliopsoas. Since the next day she had her laser appointment, I called to see if her vet could take a look at her as well. Fortunately, she was able to fit Cookie in.

Veterinary visit

The good news was that Cookie’s joints seemed to check out and it appeared to be a different muscle all together – her quadriceps. The bad news was that Cookie was back to strict rest.

It’s been slow going.

I’ve put her back on the NSAIDs but her leg was very sore. It would get better some days just to get worse again. We’ve been at this for two weeks. Not a great start to the new year.

Finally, Cookie is showing some consistent improvement.

Resuming short walks

We resumed short walks. Hopefully, things will keep going in the right direction now, with no more mishaps. If I never see a lame dog for the rest of my luck, it will make me very happy.

Getting such an unexpected setback was heartbreaking. Cookie was back to house arrest and she looked so terrible. It must have been really sore. And while each day we hoped that the next day it’s going to be much better, for two weeks it wasn’t.

Limited Exercise Fallout: Downside of Exercise Restrictions

Cookie’s physical therapist was on holidays.

There should be a law against that! We kept up with the laser therapy and chiropractic adjustments but the leg wasn’t having any of that. For two weeks.

Then there was some light in the tunnel.

Is rest a bad idea?

After two weeks of getting nowhere, we figured that maybe all that rest wasn’t the best thing for Cookie after all. And if nothing else, it didn’t seem that getting out and having some fun could possibly make things any worse.

I was still hesitant to try (what if it did make things worse). I got to talk to Sue, which was a blessing. She felt that perhaps Cookie should get to move around more, and get to go outside a bit. So we tried a short walk.

By the looks of it, Cookie wasn’t any worse off for it, she actually looked better.

So we reinstated her short walks which made Cookie very happy. For now, it’s hubby who’s taking her because she is more subdued with him and he’s more able to get her to settle down than I would. Mommy is all fun and games which is great but not in situations like this.

Cookie is getting two short walks a day once again.

Improving but still sore

The leg has still been sore by the end of the day but much less so and looks much better during the day. As long as we can keep her from doing something silly, I think we should be moving in the right direction once again.

We were going to see the orthopedic specialist last Saturday but the weather and road conditions made it impossible. And while I felt bad about missing the appointment, sadly, I wasn’t all that unhappy.


We also had to stop the NSAIDs.

I don’t like using them in the first place but with the leg looking so painful I felt I had to try to keep the pain and inflammation in check. Thought it didn’t look like it wasn’t doing anything at all, what if it was and she’d be even more lame and painful without them?

Once we got to a point that Cookie’s leg looked quite good so we figured we won’t give the Deramaxx that night. And she was much more sore the next day. It could have been because she made another attempt at zoomies with JD, or it could be because she didn’t get the meds.

Just in case it was the meds, I gave it again and decided to lower the dose gradually instead.

But last few days Cookie’s appetite was dwindling and her belly got quite unhappy.

Which was the lesser of the evils? I had already lowered the dose some so we decided not to give any. The next morning Cookie was hungry and her system seemed much happier. The leg didn’t seem to get worse so we’ll see. She is still on all the integrative herbs and other supplements so hopefully, they can finish up the job.

This week finally Cookie’s physical therapist is back!

We got two back-to-back appointments. Hopefully, she can shed some light on what happened and how to best go from there. I’m so happy she’s back. Otherwise, we had a good mind driving down South to have Jasmine’s vet see her. Cookie would hate the long long ride but it would be the best thing to do. We both agree with that.

Hopefully, we can get where we need to without that.

Nobody saw what I did

To her veterinarian and her physical therapist, Cookie’s leg looked good. I kept seeing a lingering problem.

And then she regressed. Something was wrong with that leg.

It was a long journey but eventually, Cookie was diagnosed with a partially torn cruciate ligament.

I learned there are multiple factors stabilizing the stifle. It is not the job of the ligaments; the ligaments are meant to be a backup when all else fails. With muscles weakened from restricted exercise, was Cookie’s knee injury the fallout of her exercise restrictions?

Related articles:
Canine Compensation Injuries: Cookie’s Lameness—What Else Is Going On?
Restricted Activity and Weight Management: Cookie’s Musculoskeletal Challenges
Injury and Compensation in Dogs: An Attempt To Restore Harmony

Further reading:
The Truth about Returning to Dog Sports After an Injury

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