Pet owners beware. Domestic animals can cause you an injury that can send you to a physical therapy clinic! Some injuries, like the “trip-over-your-pet-while-your-hands-are-full-of-laundry-or-tools,” seem obvious—but two common yet less obvious injuries result because “my-cat-sleeps-on-my-head-in-bed and my-dog-took-off-after-a-squirrel-cat-etc.-while-I-was-holding-the-leash.”
If you aren’t a pet owner, these may seem like odd ways to injure yourself; however, from more than the 15 years of practice experience, I know that these injuries are more common than you may believe.
First, let’s look at that feline hogging your pillow. The big problem we see is compression of your head on the first cervical vertebrae, also called your occipital atlantal joint, or OA, for short. Feel for a bump in the center-back of your head. From there, just slide you hand down toward your neck an inch or so into a softer more muscular area. That is the approximate location of the OA joint. The movement that occurs at this junction of head and neck allows you to make the nodding motion. Compression or tightness in this region can lead to neck stiffness and tightness, headaches and a forward head posture.
Individuals who are sound sleepers may actually be more affected by this problem than someone who wakes easily when in discomfort. The body generally looks for the most comfortable sleeping position, and moves accordingly. This tendency, which can be overridden by cautious pet owners wanting to avoid disturbing their pets, can cause a real pain in the neck!
The other pet injury frequently seen is often more difficult to treat. Here, the bigger the dog, the worse the injury tends to be. Dog owners take their pets for a walk on a leash, of course. And it’s hardly a surprise when the dog spots something extremely interesting and runs after it, forgetting that the pet owner is on the other end of the leash!
A myriad of injuries, sprained wrists, elbows and shoulders, for example, are seen as a result. Repetitive “pulling back” of a large breed dog—or even strong smaller dogs—can lead to tendonitis or bursitis from imbalances that can occur in the muscle and structure of the shoulder girdle (collarbone, shoulder blade and arm). A sudden pull on a leash while the pet owner is standing still can result in quick rotary movement, which can twist the spine or injure the knees. The results of these injuries aren’t always immediately seen. Often, patients tell us they felt their backs “tweak,” but, it wasn’t until a few days later that their backs become increasingly stiff and sore.
Knowing the cause of an injury makes treatment much easier, so when I find a severe rotational injury, I always ask about pets.
Easy-to-do practical tips can help you avoid these problems. Recognize the scenarios I’ve mentioned, which can lead to injury.
Next, remember that if your sleeping position is compromised by a pet, try to limit the impact of being stuck in a position by avoiding any pressure on the top of your head. When you walk your dog, stay vigilant for distractions that may pique the interest of your dog.
Ask your veterinarian for recommendations for a leash and collar that can both avoid yanks, lurches and pulls on you and provide proper care for your dog.