A large number of people take time off work each year due to back pain but our dogs do not get a choice as to whether they work, train or how far they walk each day or not. It is our responsibility as their carers to recognise any problems which may be causing them pain.

By understanding how something works it is easier to see how things can go wrong. A greater understanding of the dogs anatomy can also help us to prevent back pain occurring in the first place.

The dogs spine is made up of 7 cervical vertabrae, 13 thoracic vertabrae, 7 lumbar vertabrae, 3 sacral vertabrae and several coccygeal vertabrae form the tail.

The spinal column houses the spinal cord and nerves exit between the vertabral joints. Misalignments can cause narrowing of the gaps where the nerves leave the spinal column and thus irritate or interfere with the nerve root. This does not then allow for optimal conditions when messages need to be sent along the nerve fibres. For optimal conditions the bones need to be moving freely with no restriction within their natural range of motion.

All bones are joined by a fairly inelastic tissue called ligament. The other type of tissue that attaches to bone is tendon and this is the type which is, at its other end, attached to muscle. Muscle spasm usually starts near the junction between the muscle and tendon and not in the centre of the muscle. This means that as spasm tightens the muscle it also puts pressure along the tendon. This in turn restricts the movement of the bone to which it is attached and misalignment and stiffness is caused.

All bones have a pair of muscles attached that work antagonistically, that is that as one contracts and flexes the joint the other will lengthen. Both muscles at all times are in use as the one that is becoming longer and allowing the joint to flex has to hold a certain amount of tension for control of the amount of flexion created. If spasm occurs in one of these muscles it will also affect its antagonistic pair. If one muscle spasms and is shorter than normal the other has to compensate and lengthen accordingly. This can eventually create more strain in the muscle that was not originally injured and in worse cases can cause pain and stiffness to spread to both sides of the joint.

It is advisable therefore to have your dogs back checked regularly to prevent minor stiffness turning to pain. How regularly your dog is treated will depend on his conformation, work load and general health but approximately every 3-6 months is recommended.