Core musculature is vitally important for stability and mobility in dogs. Daily tasks like sitting, standing, bending to pee and poo all require core muscles.A strong core reduces the risk of injury. The stronger they are, the more comfortable your dog. The core covers all the muscles that lie close to the center of the body. It stabilizes the trunk, spine and pelvis. Much of the core focus for veterinary rehabilitation professionals is behind the ribs. The epaxial muscles lie dorsal (on top) to the transverse vertebral processes and the hypaxial muscles are ventral (beneath). Core muscles hold the thoracic and lumbar vertebrae in a secure, balanced position yet allow flexibility and movement. The expaxial system is frequently referred to by veterinarians as the paraspinals and includes the transversospinalis, longissimus and iliocostal systems. Included in these systems is the multifidus group and spinal rotators, both of which are important for maintaining correct posture. Hypaxial muscles of importance in dogs are the lateral and ventral abdominal muscles and the iliopsoas complex.
Image from Physical Therapy and Massage for the Dog Robertson J and Mead A
Cross Section of Lumbar Core Musculature
Core strength is the balance between these two groups of muscles (epaxials and hypaxials). The core must be adequately supported by the larger muscle groups to enable the smaller, postural muscles to support joint function. Insufficient foundational strength will result in subtle changes of movement patterns. The fatigue causes overuse of joints and muscles with ensuing incorrect phasing (incoordination). The final result is overcompensation and subsequent injury. Without core strength the integrity of the entire muscular system is constantly challenged.
One of the ways of ascertaining muscle fitness in a dog is to perform a palpation of 6 major groups of muscles. The core makes up 3 of this group. Each muscle group is palpated and given a score out of 100 (or a percentile). For example: a percentile of 50 is allocated to a healthy pet dog. Less than 50 indicates muscle wastage. The number rises the fitter the dog. This will yield 6 percentiles. The ideal is to have these figures relatively close to each other. This would indicate a fairly balanced individual.
Image from www.caninesports.com
The red, purple and orange circles indicate core muscle groups. Red are the paraspinals, purple the lateral (side) abdominals (transverse abdominal, internal and external obliques) and orange the ventral (beneath) abdominals (rectus abdominis or 6-pack group). All three of these muscle groups need to be activated and balanced in any individual dog.
Some signs that your dog may have a weak core include poor posture with dips in the topline, poor balance (test by lifting one leg), excessive sway in the rear end, difficulty transitioning from a sit to a stand, or rising from the ground, and inability to hold a position. A dog requires co-ordination of the front and rear legs (a function of core) to be able to move well. Physical rehabilitation practitioners are adept at applying exercises which strengthen core musculature. Exercises focus on improving both stability and mobility. Stability exercises include those which enhance balance, flexibility and proprioception. In order to increase mobility the dog requires strength. Strengthening exercises are a major component of a core program.
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