When people experience an ACL or cruciate ligament injury, it is unheard of for our doctors to offer us immediate surgery or euthanasia as the sole options. So why is this so with our dogs? It would be natural for us to research alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, before going under the knife in what is without question a difficult and risky surgical intervention. Dog owners, and more and more often, their veterinarians are also now furthering their awareness of treatment options other than surgery, and are often surprised at the truths associated with surgical risk, and the fear mongering myths used to justify why surgery is 'the only option'.
More and more veterinary recommendations provide options that won't break the bank, based on a growing understanding that favors long term, rehabilitative approaches including acupuncture and acupressure. While historically veterinary advice often laid out arthritis and a poor quality of life outcome for any intervention but surgery, recent studies decree these statements as myth, and open the door to options for pet owners to assess surgical and non-surgical options side by side.
What is an ACL/CCL ligament injury?
The CCL ligament connects the back of the femur (the bone above the knee) with the front of the tibia (the bone below the knee). The CCL is responsible for keeping the tibia in place beneath the femur and stabilizing the knee joint.
Depending on the severity of the CCL damage, a dog’s symptoms might range from slight lameness to being unable to bear weight on the injured leg. A dog with an CCL injury may also have swelling on the inside of the knee.
One indicator of a torn CCL in dogs is the presence of the "drawer sign." This means that when the veterinarian holds the dog’s femur in place, the tibia can be pulled forward in a manner similar to a drawer sliding open. However, the lack of the drawer sign does not mean there is not damage to the CCL.
What does research suggest as the surgical and non-surgical options, including acupuncture, are for a ligament injury?
Here are some recent findings related to surgical and alternative approaches to dogs with potential CCL, or cruciate ligament injuries:
- Due to the nature of an ACL or cruciate ligament injury, the injury itself (unless a complete tear, which requires surgical intervention) will not show up on XRAY. As a result, many ACL or cruciate injuries are misdiagnosed. Lameness is not automatically related to an ACL or cruciate ligament injury, it can also be soft tissue damage, that like ligament injury, will heal without surgery provided that time and appropriate treatments are provided.
- Post surgical results in dogs (and humans) indicate a much higher incidence of arthritis than when alternative, and less invasive methods of treatment, such as acupuncture are used. This is often opposite to what we are told by our veterinarian as they too have been educated to believe in the surgical process as the only option.
- TPLO surgery, often laid out as the only option for dogs with (a possible) ligament injury is stated by many vets as the sole option that will ensure the dog regains a high quality of life, and a full range of motion. Research indicates this to be a myth, as outcomes for dogs who participate in TPLO, versus those who are allowed to heal themselves with appropriate alternative supports are virtually identical, with far less complications associated with non-surgical alternatives including acupuncture as part of the process.
- Complications for dogs participating in TPLO surgery impact almost a third of those who have the surgery, with many having to undergo a second surgery to overcome those complications. While many vets suggest dogs who participate in surgery will quickly regain their range of motion, research indicates that stiffness in the new joint can remain for up to five years, often longer than what would be experienced by dogs who participate in non-surgical self healing alternatives including acupuncture.
- Dogs with partial tear injuries of their ligaments CAN heal themselves, provided that they are supported through limitations in activity over time, with dietary support geared to prevent obesity issues, and supports that help manage potential arthritis development. The use of acupuncture is documented to support this healing process, increasing range of motion, and managing osteoarthritis related pain for the dog as they go through the process, and beyond.
Veterinarians are becoming familiar with, and are, more and more often, adjusting their practices to incorporate these developing, research-supported treatment options when dealing with ligament injuries. There are also a growing number of vets who are fully trained, or are actively referring to acupuncturists specializing in dog and pet health support. So if you've got a much loved canine in distress, consider your options carefully, and where surgery is recommended, consider a second opinion. While surgical intervention makes complete sense in cases of complete ligament separation. self healing with acupuncture support provides a viable alternative in many cases, saving you, the owner, thousands of dollars, while avoiding the risk, stress, and physical invasiveness of a surgical procedure for your dog.