The reduction in a muscles ability to contract in order to generate force during a sustained period of activity is referred to as muscle fatigue.

muscle fatigue

In the case of highly driven, competing, working or racing dogs muscle fatigue provides the animal’s body with a failsafe mechanism by which the muscles are naturally forced to stop working; preventing damage to their fibres and the surrounding tissues.

In a canine athlete or energetic dog, muscle fatigue can also occur as a result of normal levels of overexertion; in order to prevent injury to the muscles.

For activities where more sustained contractions are necessary, the dog’s muscles require a constant source of intercellular energy to fuel the continued contraction of its fibres. If muscle cells are in an oxygen deficient state as a result of the body working harder or as a result of breathing difficulties, the muscles will start to weaken; a muscle so depleted of energy will stop responding to innervation completely.

In an attempt to dissipate the heat generated as part of the metabolic processes of exertion a dog will pant more which will eventually lead to dehydration and fluid imbalances – again contributing to fatigued muscles. Diseases affecting a dog’s blood sugar levels, cardiovascular disorders and cancer along with blood disorders resulting in the blood cells carrying less oxygen can also be prone to faster muscle fatigue. 

A dog initially suffering from muscle fatigue is likely to lie down; and in extreme cases may collapse; severe cases of fatigue can be dangerous and homeostasis, the body’s natural state of internal equilibrium must always be the primary goal. 

Late onset symptoms however might include a lack of energy and overall weakness followed by delayed muscle soreness and pain associated with the overworked muscles. 

Cramps are involuntary, prolonged contractions or spasms within a muscle or muscle group usually accompanied by intense pain; once a spasm becomes sustained, it is referred to as a cramp.

muscle cramps

Cramps are sudden in onset, short-lived and intense contractions that can occur in the dogs skeletal or smooth muscle.

Over exertion may lead to the cramping of a muscle as a result of reduced oxygen within the tissues, dehydration, the depletion of salts and electrolytes and ion imbalances all of which can lead to short term muscle debilitation and prevent the return to homeostasis and normal recovery.

It is important to be mindful however that not all cramps are related to exercise however, neurological reasons can interrupt normal muscle contraction; seizures and diseases that involve the impairment of nerve function such as degenerative myelopathy can all be a cause of muscle cramps. Viruses and neurotoxins are capable of leading to both cramps and spasms, influencing the manner in which the dog moves or causing a limb to stiffen thus inducing a cramp. 

The range of underlying triggers of cramp can make it difficult to determine the direct cause and in reoccurring cases where the dog’s recovery takes longer than usual, veterinary referral is advised.

muscle spasms

Spasms are longer-lasting conditions; slower in onset, usually indicated by a slight muscular twitch and may involve a lesser degree of pain.

They are commonly caused by lack of oxygen or energy to a muscle, either through overworking the muscle or because of chronic tension in the muscle that is impeding the blood supply.

Prolonged exercise can fatigue a muscle; the depletion of energy reduces the muscles ability to relax properly, which it needs to do in order to contract fully – both actions require the expenditure of energy. When the muscle has no energy, its inability to relax can cause it to spasm – this can be as a result of overexertion or a disorder of the metabolic system which disrupts the normal supply of energy to the muscle.

A spasm can also be the body’s protective mechanism, triggered in response to trauma; the muscles around a fractured bone can go into spasm in an attempt to stabilise and minimize any further damage by contracting the muscle around the affected area. 

The use of myotherapy to support muscle fatigue

Vigorous exercise will create micro-tears in the dog’s muscle fibres leading to inflammation, myotherapy can reduce the production of cytokines; protein messengers which play a critical role in triggering inflammation and therefore pain.

Galen Myotherapy© can positively influences the release of endorphins via the dog’s parasympathetic nervous system or PSNS which help soothe pain from the nerve endings of overworked muscles.

Gentle myotherapy will encourage circulation and influence lymphatic drainage, bring fresh blood and essential nutrients to the fatigued muscles and encourage the release of built-up toxins. Passive movement techniques are capable of gently stretching the overworked muscles, stimulating venous return and the dog’s lymphatic system - both which will assist in the removal of the metabolic wastes from the muscles. 

Thorough assessment of the dog before treatment would identify isolated areas of heat or inflammation, injury or swelling caused indirectly by the action of a fatigued muscle failing and which would make myotherapy a contraindication. Equally, in the case of an exhausted dog, treatment would not occur until the dog was able to regulate its breathing, was rehydrated and homeostasis regained.


Galen Myotherapy© would be contraindicated for acute cramps, however the muscle or muscle group can be gently extended to help to relieve the cramp.

Once acute symptoms have subsided; within a few minutes, gentle myotherapy can be used to release the spasm and encourage the affected muscle to relax.

Techniques would be used to initially relax the muscles and increase blood flow to the affected area; to pump fresh blood carrying oxygen and nutrients into the belly of the muscles, flushing and cleansing them; helping to relieve the spasm and resulting muscle soreness. Regular myotherapy sessions and stretching exercises can be effective in reducing long-term spasms.

Galen Myotherapy© would be contraindicated for protective spasms in response to trauma, however following veterinary treatment and depending on the delayed soreness to the muscle, myotherapy will bring blood and essential nutrients, encourage the release of toxins and mechanically relax the muscle spasms. 

The reflexive effects of myotherapy on the dog’s parasympathetic nervous system can also lead to a reduction in both excessive muscle contraction and nerve impulses and the manner in which they are perceived as pain.

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