There isn’t much talk about front leg lameness in dogs or shoulder injuries.
Unless you have an agility dog, you might have never heard of these issues; neither have I until recently.
Most people are familiar with hind leg problems in dogs such as cruciate ligament tears, hip dysplasia, luxating patella, and so on. The only front leg condition that is generally familiar is elbow dysplasia.
In the past, we had too much experience with hind leg lameness. When my dog started limping, I was relieved when it was “just a front leg.” As it turns out, “just a front leg lameness” can be a much bigger problem.
Awareness of shoulder injuries, their diagnosis, and treatment seem to have lagged. The diagnosis your dog might often get is a “soft tissue” injury. That, in all fairness, is technically true but far from as simple as it sounds.
Dog shoulder injuries
The canine shoulder facilitates all sorts of movement and it contains all many stabilizing soft tissues any of which can get hurt. Shoulder joint ligament and tendon conditions are the most common cause of front leg lameness in dogs.
I am not going to list the common types, their names are horrible and you can look them up. The most common, however, is medial shoulder instability (MSI) and medial shoulder syndrome (MSS). As the terms indicate, they are similar but in MSI the joint is unstable and in MSS it is not. Both cause pain and lameness.
Medial shoulder instability is similar to the rotator cuff injuries in humans. That doesn’t sound like fun at all.
The first time Cookie hurt her shoulder was during winter time about two years ago. We were sure it was from the way her legs would break through the deep snow with layers of ice throughout.
It took a while but we were able to successfully treated with rest, physical therapy, massage, laser treatment, and dry needling.
Eventually, Cookie recovered and the shoulder didn’t bother her for two years. That changed toward the end of last winter.
It was the same scenario—ungodly mess outside consisting of deep snow with ice layers. Of course, we made safe trails, but that’s not where the wild huntress Cookie wanted to be. I was trying to balance between keeping her safe and giving her reasonable freedom to do what she wanted.
Sometimes, though, she’d just lose it and get zoomies which are difficult to control
Long before the actual acute event that led to terrible lameness on her front left leg, I was seeing concerning things. It was subtle and every practitioner we saw had a different theory about what’s behind it.
I too leaned toward a sore back rather than a shoulder injury. But that’s what it turned out to be.
More about that here: Example Report for Dog PT: Cookie’s New Lameness
We attacked the problem with initial rest and slow return to activity combined with vigorous physical therapy, laser therapy, and acupuncture.
The recovery was taking much longer this time. However, slowly but surely we were getting Cookie where we wanted her to be. She was able to return to her normal activity, mouse and frog hunting, and doing well. She wasn’t hundred percent but getting closer.
After the initial good improvement, I started seeing some new things. Some days she would walk with a bob. Did she overdo it that day? She was still going down the ramp slower than prior the ordeal.
But since overall things seemed to be moving in the right direction, and the process had been slow, we figured it was part of getting there. It seemed like residual issues from the original injury when Cookie pushed things too far.
That all changed last night.
She was very happy and very excited all day, enjoying a visitor, hunting frogs. Maybe too excited? She did a lot of bouncing. She stumbled or tripped couple times after that and walked, rather than ran to the frog pond. That was it, though.
After we came home, however, I could see something was wrong just from her face. She also didn’t come out on the deck with us every time we went, which is what she normally would do. I was already concerned.
She remained put in her bed until after her dinner. When she got up, I thought I heard a whimper. She stood there, front legs far apart, and then she limped horribly—on the front right leg this time.
What the heck happened now?
The quest for answers
The strong suspicion now is that there is more to it than an acute injury. Something chronic going on, made worse when she does just the wrong thing. I thought I was “seeing things” but it appears I was actually seeing things.
Does she suffer from medial shoulder instability or medial shoulder syndrome after all? And if so, what is the next step? What we’ve been doing doesn’t seem enough. Will a shoulder support brace help? Will Cookie need surgery?
That are the things we need to figure out. What the diagnosis really is—even though it means more invasive diagnostics now, and what we’re going to do to fix it.
Example Report for Dog PT: Cookie’s New Lameness
Observation Skills for Dog Owners: Cookie’s Sore Shoulder
Shoulder Injury in a Dog: It Never Rains … though Rain Did Have a Lot to Do with It