By Diana Pacheco, CVT CCRP

The underwater treadmill (UWTM) successfully treats many musculoskeletal conditions. It provides safe, controlled environment for gait analysis, exercise, stretching, muscle building, and neuromuscular stimulation. The chamber is dry as the animal walks into it with our expert technician. Warm water is then filled to the desired height to provide buoyancy, decrease weight-bearing pain, and provide gentle support for ambulation. Once the treadmill is slowly started, and the animal walks naturally in a warm water environment. Owners stand outside at the front of the tank with treats and encouragement, and the animals quickly learn to love exercising in the chamber.

The buoyancy and lift decreases the concussive forces of gravity on painful joints allowing pets to function more naturally with increased flexibility and mobility. As muscles and tendons relax in the water, they allow the mobility of the animal to improve. Muscle mass increases with use, and with increased movement joints become properly bathed in the healing and nutritive joint fluid. Arthritic joints can even begin to remodel and allow for less restricted movement. Animals using the treadmill for a variety of conditions begin to ambulate better, and increase their strength, endurance and flexibility.

Walking on the treadmill is a workout, and sometimes uses muscles previously left immobile. The UWTM is in many ways less stressful on the body than walking on land because the buoyancy decreases the weight on the limbs and the water helps to decrease blood pressure and relax the animal. With the workout, the heart rate gently increases, but the lowered blood pressure decreases stress on the cardiovascular system and the animal. The activity makes them feel better and stronger even if they are only doing therapy once a week. Animals that generally don’t like water do very well in our treadmill.

As the animal walks, the gait, energy, balance and attitude of the animal is monitored carefully. Hands-on physical therapy techniques are employed as needed in the UWTM to encourage proper gait and workouts.

The underwater treadmill is most commonly used:

  1. As an adjunct to post-operative rehabilitation.
  2. To maintain healthy joint function in animals with joint disease.
  3. To encourage increasing weight-bearing in recovering animals.
  4. To help maintain normal muscle/joint function if the animal isn’t using a normal gait on land.
  5. To improve function of limbs with nerve or neuro-muscular problems.
  6. To improve muscle strength and endurance for healthy animals, working animals or show animals.

Animals in the treadmill must be free of external and internal parasites (annual fecals) and appropriately groomed. Skin must be free of contagious infections. Our water is carefully monitored for cleanliness and tested for bromine, pH and chemical levels. We routinely perform culture and sensitivity tests on our water as well.