Elbow dysplasia or ED is a general term that encompasses distinct anatomical problems; resulting in malformation of the elbow joint leading to early-onset osteoarthritis.

The word dysplasia means abnormality of development however there are a number of forms of developmental elbow diseases which have very different causes and treatments. 

The elbow is a complex joint because it involves the articulation of three bones - the humerus of the dog’s upper foreleg and the radius and ulnar of the lower foreleg; its main function is not weight bearing, rather it helps to stabilize, particularly when the leg is extended. If, as a result of abnormal development these three bones do not fit together absolutely perfectly, the consequence is abnormal concentration of forces on a specific region of the elbow joint.

Elbow dysplasia is the commonest cause of fore limb lameness in young large and giant breed dogs; involving abnormal bone growth or cartilage development and joint stresses; as the joint is unable to move normally, wear and tear of the joint starts to occur leading to secondary osteoarthritis of the elbow.

There are a number of specific developmental abnormalities that lead to elbow dysplasia:

Ununited anconeal process or UAP: a condition that is most commonly seen in large dog breeds. The anconeal process lies at the back of the elbow joint and attaches to the ulna; in some dogs theanconeal process does not fuse with the main body of the ulna and instead forms a separate bone which is referred to as an ununited anconeal process.

As a result of the anconeal process failing to form fully, elbow function is impaired and osteoarthritis develops causing lifelong pain, discomfort and disability.

Fragmented medial coronoid process or FCP: the medial coronoid process is a piece of bone that should form part of the top of the ulna and of the elbow joint. In FCP this breaks away during development and fails to connect to the ulna.

This small piece of bone irritates the cartilage which lines and cushions the bone and can begin to grind away at the cartilage of the humerus, ultimately leading to the development of osteoarthritis.

Osteochondritis dissecans or OCD: an area of joint cartilage develops abnormally or becomes damaged which leads to thickening, cracking and fragmentation of the cartilage away from the bone.

These pieces of cartilage do not die off but continue to grow and cause pain as the lining of the joint becomes inflamed. 

Elbow incongruity: due to natural conformation issues, the malformed articular surfaces of the three bones that make up the elbow do not fit together normally.

It can affect the weight-bearing surfaces between the humerus and the radius and ulna and also the way in which the upper part of the ulna fits inside the lower end of the humerus.

As the joint does not fit together well enough progressive osteoarthritis begins to occur as the joint comes under more wear and tear.

Ununited medial epicondyle or UME: a more uncommon condition in which the medial epicondyle, a rounded articular extremity of the humerus, fails to unite with the humerus during the dog’s early development.

Most dogs diagnosed with elbow dysplasia present a limp on one or both front legs and this can be seen as a nodding of the head when the good leg is placed, and lifting of the head when the bad leg is placed.

The joint may appear stiff or unable to move freely and advanced cases develop osteoarthritis, fluid build-up within the joint, and a grating or crackling sound. 

The disease is often present by 5-9 months of age but can present later in life; affected dogs may be treated with rest and pain-killers, although treatment may need to be life-long. Various surgical procedures are likely to be recommended before the degenerative changes of osteoarthritis occur.

The use of myotherapy to support elbow dysplasia

Surgical treatments for elbow dysplasia aim to treat the current source of pain and minimize the likelihood of osteoarthritis progression.

Non-surgical treatments for elbow dysplasia aim to treat elbow pain and maintain mobility, but do not have the potential to minimize osteoarthritis progression.

Galen Myotherapy© treatment can support pre-surgical conditioning and post-operative rehabilitation, reduce loading issues on the joint along with soreness and tension throughout the body, particularly in areas of overcompensation; typically asymmetrically within the pelvic limbs.

Myotherapy can be extremely beneficial for releasing compensatory tension and muscle spasms in the lower neck and behind the shoulder associated with elbow dysplasia.

To talk to me about Galen Myotherapy© and how it might help your dog, contact me here.