Muscle Tears in Dogs

By Rania Gollakner, BS DVM

What are muscle tears?

Muscle tears are direct or indirect traumatic injuries that cause damage to the structure of the muscle tissue.

What causes muscle tears?

Muscle tears can be caused by direct or indirect injury or trauma. The most common cause is an indirect injury, or strain, caused by overstretching during athletic activities, such as running or jumping. Direct causes such as damage from a bone fracture (broken bone) or external lacerations (deep cuts). Lacerations from complications during surgery can also occur.


What are the clinical signs of muscle tears?

Clinical signs of muscle tears include pain on palpation (examination by touch during a physical exam) of the injured area, lameness or limping, swelling of the muscle, and/or bruising. If the tear is mild, the clinical signs may be difficult to detect.

"If the tear is mild, the clinical signs may be difficult to detect."

How are muscle tears diagnosed?

Muscle tears are diagnosed by clinical signs and by examining which muscles are involved; certain muscles are more likely to be affected by muscle tears than others and each muscle can have slightly different clinical signs.

Blood work that measures creatine phosphokinase (CPK), a muscle enzyme (a chemical released in the body), may be elevated and supports the diagnosis. Imaging such as radiographs (X-rays) and advanced imaging such as ultrasound, CT, and MRI can also assist in the diagnosis and in localizing the injury.


How are muscle tears treated?

Muscle tears are treated immediately with rest, cold compresses, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to reduce pain, swelling, and inflammation. Mild compression bandages can be used initially, depending on the affected muscle. Additional pain control may be required if the NSAID is not sufficient.

"In the most severe cases, surgery is likely required."

After 2 days, passive physical therapy can be performed to prevent complications during healing. Your muscle_tears_in_dogs_lb_2018veterinarian will make recommendations on physical therapy. After 5 to 10 days, mild and controlled exercise (no jumping or running) can be reintroduced to help the proper reformation of muscle tissue.

In the most severe cases, surgery is likely required. Surgery is performed 2 to 3 days after the injury, so that swelling and inflammation have time to reduce. In these cases where surgery is required, exercise should be strictly controlled for a month following surgery. This allows for proper healing and prevents further injury.

What care will my dog require after treatment for a muscle tear?

Dogs with muscle tears will likely benefit from physical therapy. Complete inactivity and immobilization of the injured muscle can lead to permanent muscle contracture (tightening), so controlled movement during healing is essential. After successful treatment of the muscle tear, no further aftercare is required.

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