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When Saint, a retired service dog from Saint Francis Service Dogs of Roanoke, Virginia, began experiencing mobility issues and hind limb weakness, his new owner, Krista Sinnott, sought out physical rehabilitation to improve the 11-year-old’s quality of life. Learn more about Saint and the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s Rehabilitation Service in a January 2020 story from Virginia Tech News→

Physical therapy is a known benefit in treating many orthopedic and neurologic conditions. In humans, it is considered a routine intervention before, after, or in lieu of surgery once a diagnosis has been made.

Rehabilitation exercises improve joint mobility, and post-operative patients have an earlier return to function when rehabilitation is incorporated into their treatment regimen. Rehabilitation exercises also may delay the progression of non-surgical diseases and maintain quality of life for affected patients.

With goals centered around service, teaching, and research, the Physical Rehabilitation Service team takes a translational approach to discovering and leveraging the most effective rehabilitation techniques for our patients. In addition, the service is Fear Free®-certified, taking extra care to reduce the stress and anxiety of our patients.


To schedule an appointment with the Rehabilitation Service, contact patient coordinator Melanie Dobbins by email or at 540-231-4137, or call the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at 540-231-4621.

FAQs about rehabilitation

Physical rehabilitation is applying noninvasive techniques to patients with dysfunction, injury, pain, or physical abnormalities. Benefits of a rehabilitation program include improving joint mobility, weight loss, earlier return to function after surgery, slowing progression of non-surgical diseases, and maintaining quality of life in the face of end-stage disease.

Physical rehabilitation can be used for a large variety of physically limiting conditions, both surgical and non-surgical.

  • Orthopedic surgeries
  • Physical rehabilitation techniques and modalities can be used to help your patient recover faster, with reduced pain and improved mobility. Patients whose recovery is complicated by degenerative joint disease, arthritis, obesity, inability to tolerate NSAIDs, underlying neurological disease, or advancing age are especially good candidates for post-operative rehabilitation. Published data shows superior recovery results when rehabilitation is done with a therapist in a clinical setting versus at home, even when clients have been properly instructed.

  • Neurological surgeries

    Patients are treated using various techniques and modalities to stimulate certain muscle groups, enhance positional awareness and balance, reduce pain, and increase strength. Quick application of physical therapy methods may improve pain control and could result in faster recovery times.

  • Non-surgical candidates

    When surgery is not an option for a patient because of contraindications or owner preference, physical rehabilitation should be seriously considered.

Every patient is an individual, and rehabilitation is case-dependent. The evaluation appointment usually takes one and a half to two hours to complete. Each patient undergoes a full evaluation by a Licensed Veterinary Technician and Certified Canine Rehabilitation Practitioner during the first session. In response, a rehabilitation protocol will be designed, and clients will be provided with an online exercise program and tracking sheets. Recommendations of additional modalities will be provided. Progression through an exercise program will depend on future visits. Individual sessions or prepaid package options are available for ongoing care. The practitioner is unable to address any conditions beyond those for which your veterinarian is prescribing rehabilitative services.

Services offered

Using a process called photobiomodulation, light energy is transferred to cellular energy, stimulating various biological responses. These include increased blood flow, which reduces inflammation and pain, and cellular regeneration. Treatments can improve acute or chronic arthritis and wound-healing and surgical-healing time and can heal some tendon or ligament injuries.

Ultrasound is a deep-tissue heating method that can be used to improve joint mobility, decrease pain due to chronic muscle tension, and encourage proper healing formation of tendon or ligament injuries. The therapy is also useful in treating contractures and muscle tightness.

  • TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation) reduces chronic muscle tension and pain and swelling (edema) due to post-surgical conditions and can increase joint mobility.
  • NMES (Neuromuscular Electrical Stimulation) stimulates muscle contraction to reduce muscle-wasting associated with disuse and paralysis. The therapy also increases sensory awareness and may improve joint mobility.

Extracorpeal shockwave therapy uses high-energy soundwaves to treat conditions such as osteoarthritis, non-surgical tendon injuries (especially of the shoulder), and delayed bone healing.

Performed by a veterinarian certified in acupuncture, this therapy is used to manage pain caused by acute and chronic conditions and for neural-modulation.

FDA-approved to treat post-operative pain in humans, the Assisi LOOP® is a pulsed electromagnetic-field therapy and non-pharmaceutical anti-inflammatory device. It has been demonstrated to reduce pain in post-operative intervertebral disc disease patients.

Warm-packing and massage help increase blood flow, reduce muscle tension and pain, and improve joint mobility and are often used in conjunction with electrical stimulation for chronic pain conditions. Cryotherapy is used as a cool-down, pain relief modality to conclude rehabilitation visits and can be used to limit the distribution of inflammation associated with injury.

Treadmills are useful for gait training and strength training. The underwater treadmill, which reduces the amount of weight-bearing and stress load on joints, provides resistance, and allows more active range of motion, is beneficial for patients with neurological and/or musculoskeletal conditions. The underwater treadmill has thermotherapeutic benefits with temperatures maintained between 78-82 degrees Fahrenheit.

Various shapes and sizes of balancing equipment are used to enhance positional awareness, target certain muscles, and improve strength and balance. Other floor exercises and games can be added to encourage engagement of muscle groups.

Both options are available through the rehabilitation service. Carts and orthotics can be used when patients lack the ability to walk or move certain limbs appropriately or they can be utilized as temporary measures while patients are building strength and coordination through recovery.

» Canine Assisted Mobility Devices (PDF)

Rehabilitation personnel

Melanie Dobbins
Melanie Dobbins, Patient Coordinator, Cardiology and Neurology