Dr Veerle Dejonckheere MRCVS

Ten years ago there were only a handful of dedicated canine sports medicine and rehabilitation facilities in the UK. Since then an increased awareness of sports injuries has triggered increased interest from vets, and more and more places are offering relevant services. 

Rehabilitation practitioners are uniquely placed to improve the animals’ emotional and cognitive well-being, physical well-being, and recovery speed, prevent re-injury, promote longevity and, in some cases, improve sports performance. Multiple factors are at play including age, nutrition, fitness, stress level, immune status and circulation. Complementary medicine can offer treatments that complement conventional treatments. Experience in practice shows that some conventional first line and orthopaedic practitioners sometimes lack the tools to offer adequate circulation support, support healthy neurological function and support connective tissue repair. They may also neglect ergogenic aids (substances that improve and maintain performance after rehabilitation). Acupuncture, laser therapy, massage and hydrotherapy all have a role to play but herbs can be a great addition.

1. Circulation

Joaquim et al. (2010) showed that electro acupuncture was more effective than decompressive surgery for recovery of ambulation and improvement in longstanding neurological deficits in dogs attributable to thoracolumbar Invertebral Disc Disease (IVDD). Jeffery et al. (2016) suggests that blood flow in the area determines recovery success in these dogs and recommends that future studies should focus on detection of blood flow and biomarkers for such in canine IVDD cases with paraplegia and lack of deep pain. Bone (2013) states that maintaining healthy tissue perfusion is critical. It is common to assume that fibro cartilaginous embolism symptoms are due to a dysfunction of part of the spinal cord through focal loss of oxygen supply for a short period.  Often if collateral circulation is generated the oedema resolves and the patients recovers rapidly. 

Herbs that support healthy circulation and capillary integrity such as Gingko biloba and Crataegus are potentially useful for the rehabilitation practitioner.

2. Neurological function and response

Neurorehabilitation is a complex medical process which aims to aid recovery from a nervous system injury, and to minimize and/or compensate for any functional alterations resulting from it. 

Rehabilitation practitioners should aim to address neural pain, improve neural function, prevent demyelination and optimise neuroplasticity by strengthening (or lessening) existing neuronal pathways (synaptic plasticity), or establishing entirely new neurons and connections (structural plasticity).  Herbs such as Gingko biloba and Angelica sinensis might be helpful to aid the neurological system

3. Connective tissue repair 

Tendinitis and ligament damage can often be a challenge in rehabilitation practice. The quality of the ligament and tendon tissue and mechanical overuse are important factors.  Herbs such as turmeric have shown in some in vitro and animal models to potentially have some benefit.

4. Ergogenic aids

Ergogenic herbs like Panax ginseng and Withania somnifera  can potentially  increase productivity, improve performance and have neuroprotective properties that aid rehabilitation.

Dr Veerle Dejonckheere MRCVS

Veerle is a fully qualified veterinary surgeon with an international reputation as an expert in integrated veterinary care established through fifteen years of experience combining conventional medicine and complementary approaches in her professional practice. 

She qualified as a veterinary surgeon from the University of Ghent, Belgium in 2001. Then worked for two years in a large animal practice in France before coming to the UK in 2003. Over the next five years she worked at conventional small animal practices throughout the country, and spent several months as a volunteer with animal charities in Samos and Bhutan. In 2009 Veerle joined the SMART Clinic, Cardiff, led by Lowri Davis. Her practice there was focused on sports medicine and rehabilitation, leading her to acquire depth in my experience as an acupuncturist. Since 2011 she has been running a thriving referral service offering integrated veterinary care, now including acupuncture, chiropractic care, therapeutic exercise, nutrition and herbal medicine, in the Bath and Bristol area. Her aim is to work together with the referring conventional vet to maximise the well-being of the animal at all stages of its life. Mostly she treats dogs but does also see cats and the occasional rabbit, chicken or iguana.  

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The veterinary Surgeon’s Act 1966 restricts the treatment of animals (usually other than your own*) by anyone other than a qualified vet. Always consult a veterinary surgeon if you are concerned about your animal’s health. *For full details visit the RCVS website