Massage Dogs that Limp

Massage Dogs that Limp

This week’s Helpful Hint is the support content for this week’s YouTube video. I invite you to watch it. The video has several examples and demonstrations while this article fleshes out more specific instruction. I hope you find value in both of them. 


Limping is caused by pain. Pain is a signal. Something is wrong and needs time and space to heal. Pain is the result of inflammation in the joint. When there is a joint injury or a buildup of toxins in a muscle group, the white blood cells in the lymph congregate in that area. They fill up the joint capsule with fluid, and create swelling or edema. Putting pressure on nerves causes pain. This causes restricted movement. For, every time you move you experience pain.

Restricted movement

When we reduce our movement we give the body the time and the space to do the healing work it needs to do. For example, if I injured my ankle I would put more weight on the opposite foot to support my weight when I walk. I compensate by transferring my weight bearing to the rest of my body to pick up the load from the part of the body that requires rest to heal itself. The area that carries the load is experiencing its own set of stress issues.

Visceral pain

If the pain is visceral- in the organs- then the body will curl around it to protect it just like when you have a bellyache, you lean forward and grab your tummy. Here, we’re addressing the compensation in muscles as opposed to organs.

Joint pain

When a dog experiences joint pain they will move their weight to another part of the body. This contorts their musculature and their skeletal alignment and creates untoward kinds of pressures. There is immediate gait adjustment -limping- until the body is again comfortable with normal weight bearing.

Long term compensation

Confirmation is reshaped to support movement. Long-term, the body will assume the shape and character of their new way of holding itself.

PetMassage application

When a dog presents with limping behavior:

First, we assess confirmation to check for shapes of muscles and developmental symmetry, skeletal alignment and balance. Is it recent or chronic?

Second, gait to observe where the dog is injured and which muscle groups are working hardest. Watch head, shoulders, hips, stifle, hocks, paws.

Third, we identify Stress Tracts: patterns of muscle behaviors from how dogs bodies compensate for pain/injuries. Stress tracts are predictable. Notice patterns, combinations of strain or restricted movement.

Stress tract patterns

The stress tracts flow through compensatory joints. Traditionally they most affect every other joint. Follow their paths to the end, zigzagging across body. Because there are an odd number of joints you’ll eventually be working the dogs entire body. A full body massage makes sure you are addressing all areas that need support because they are being stressed.

Stress tract patterns move in both directions: from the injury to the compensating joint and from the compensating joint back to the injury.

The injury

Address the injury as well. Use gentle intentional holding and pulsing. Allow your core energy to radiate positive chi into the tissues while you support them with mild compression and draw the dog’s awareness to the area. This heats the area, encourages lymphatic circulation, and supports the dogs natural healing processes.


The best way to learn what to look for, feel for, and what to do to give dogs the best quality massage is to attend a PetMassage hands-on workshop. There are still openings in the Foundation Level Programs (workshops + home study courses) which you can find out about on our website:

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