Gait analysis plays a vital role in canine rehabilitation, aiding veterinarians and canine rehabilitation specialists in understanding and treating various musculoskeletal conditions and injuries in dogs. By closely observing a dog's gait, experts can identify abnormalities and make informed decisions to develop effective treatment plans. In this blog post, we will explore the different forms of gait analysis in canine rehabilitation and look at the usability of each.
1. Visual Gait Assessment
Visual gait assessment is the most common and basic form of gait analysis and is what I use the most. It involves observing a dog's movement visually to detect any abnormalities, asymmetries, or irregularities in their gait. I also tend to video all my dogs within the initial assessment so that I can go back later and slow the video down in case I have missed a small discrepancy. While this method is quick and easy to perform and requires little in the way of equipment, there is mixed evidence of the reliability of the data picked up by the therapist. A study by Evans and colleagues compared visual observation of gait to force plate analysis and evaluated 148 Labrador retrievers—131 that were 6 months post surgery for unilateral cranial cruciate ligament injury and 17 that were free of orthopaedic disease. The observer only identified 11% of the 131 dogs that were 6 months post surgery as being abnormal compared with force plate analysis, which revealed that 75% of the 131 dogs failed to achieve ground reaction forces consistent with sound Labrador retrievers. While force plate analysis is superior to visual observation, visual observation is still a practical tool in clinical practice, and its importance should not be discounted.
2. Pressure Mat Analysis; Kinetic movement
Pressure mat analysis involves the use of specialised mats equipped with sensors that measure the distribution of pressure and force exerted by a dog's paws during movement or at a stationary stance. This technique offers a quantitative assessment of gait parameters, providing detailed insights into weight distribution and symmetry.
Pressure mat measurements have been the most widely used and validated quantitative gait application in veterinary medicine to date and are considered the 'gold standard' in gait analysis. However, there are disadvantages to force plate analysis. Limitations include the need for a long dedicated walkway, multiple trials, difficulty in setting up, breaking down, and moving, the complexity of software and data analysis and cost and impracticality for clinical practice.
3. Kinematic Gait Analysis
Kinematic gait analysis involves utilising motion capture technology to record a dog's movements in three-dimensional space. Reflective markers placed on key anatomical landmarks allow for precise measurement of joint angles and movement patterns during gait. Even though this is a great way to measure the acceleration and velocity of body segments, it still has its disadvantages. This system is costly to set up along with user accuracy when placing the markers and there can be extra movement that is picked up of the markers on the dog's skin. Kinematic analysis also doesn't give reason to 'causes of movement dysfunction' unlike EMG as it only describes motion.
4. Electromyography (EMG)
Electromyography involves measuring the electrical activity of muscles during gait. By analysing the timing and magnitude of muscle activation, researchers gain insights into muscle function and identify potential imbalances or weaknesses, particularly in the neurological dog.
Gait analysis is a critical component of canine rehabilitation, enabling veterinarians and rehab therapists to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment plans and monitor a dog's progress. While visual gait assessment remains a fundamental tool, advancements in technology have introduced more sophisticated techniques like pressure mat analysis, kinematic gait analysis, and electromyography. Each approach contributes unique insights into a dog's gait, allowing for tailored rehabilitation strategies.
Evans R, Horstman C, Conzemius M. Accuracy and optimization of force platform gait analysis in Labradors with cranial cruciate disease evaluated at a walking gait. Vet Surg 2005; 34(5):445-449.
Gordon-Evans WJ. Gait analysis. In Tobias KM, Johnston SA (eds): Veterinary Surgery: Small Animal. St. Louis: Elsevier, 2012, pp 1190-1196.