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Could ball play have long-term implications for your dog?


Please see below for a piece by a McTimoney Animal Practitioner about the possible long term effects that ball play can have on a dog. 

I hope you will be able to use this piece and please do let me know if you would like any further information. 

Images are available on the dropbox link below.

Kind regards 


Jenny Viner


Public Relations and Marketing
The Old Nursery Office, Rock Road, Washington, West Sussex, RH20 3BH
Tel:  01903 892060 or 07917 886851
Fax:  01903 891637



McTimoney Animal Association

19th December 2017



Ball play for dogs - An animal McTimoney chiropractic view


We all want to have a fun, playful time with our dogs though it is important to be aware of

the potential risks associated with ball play. Dogs have an incredible musculoskeletal

system with a very flexible spine, powerful hindquarters and elastic limbs allowing them to

run at great speeds and jump very athletically. This can be great fun when watching them

chase speedily after a ball, jumping spectacularly in the air to catch it and quickly retrieving

it for you. However, it is a strenuous repetitive exercise for your dog which

can predispose them to potential risks and musculoskeletal injuries.


Twisting awkwardly as a dog jumps to catch a ball can have repercussions as Sue's 5-year-old Jack Russell Terrier, Henry found out. Sue said: ‘Henry is bold, fearless and energetic, which is how

we came to need the help of a McTimoney practitioner - Lucy Goodright. Whilst playing

with a tennis ball, Henry jumped up to catch it in mid-air and in doing so, twisted his body.

He landed quite hard on his back legs but seemed fine, continuing with his game.

However, the following day it was clear that he was in significant pain and unable to move

freely. A trip to the vets confirmed that Henry had seriously strained his lower back, and the

muscles were in spasm. Painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs helped but he still had an

unbalanced, stiff gait and wasn't his usual bouncy self. We then contacted McTimoney practitioner, Lucy who visited Henry 3 times over the course of 5 weeks."


McTimoney chiropractic is a specialised treatment which is very effective for treating

strains and sprains which may occur, particular injuries to the vertebral column (spine),

sacro-iliac and pelvis. It is a gentle form of chiropractic used to improve mobilisation,

relaxation and restore normal function of the musculoskeletal system by removing muscle

spasm, nerve impingement and pain.


Lucy said: ‘Henry was extremely tight and sore over his thoracolumbar region where the para spinal musculature had gone into spasm. To compensate for this he had begun to hold his hind

legs to the left creating an un symmetrical movement pattern and crooked pelvis.' After his

first treatment, Henry was noticeably more comfortable and his gait was more fluid and he

continued to improve with each session and was soon back to normal.


Hannah's 10-year-old Border Collie, Shadow sustained a nasty injury when he landed awkwardly and unexpectedly in some undergrowth when playing ball. Hannah said: ‘Shadow has a lot of energy and loves to chase after a ball. During a routine walk I was throwing a ball using a ball thrower which went a little off target and landed into an area of undergrowth. Shadow instinctively launched himself into the area where the ball had gone and to my horror landed onto a jagged piece of concrete which had been submerged. He wasn't able to land effectively and fell awkwardly onto his side on top of the concrete. It was obvious that he had severely injured his front right paw and was un able to bear any weight so we took him to the vet. It was not fractured thankfully and he was given anti-inflammatories, pain killers and advised rest. It took some time for the swelling and bruising in the paw to reduce and although that was improving he seemed tired and low. He had also started to bunny hop with his back legs to get around."


One month after the incident, chiropractic treatment was sought. McTimoney practitioner, Vanessa Davidson came to see him and found that Shadow was in a lot of discomfort. His cervical spine (neck) was rotated to the right and his thoracic spine (upper back) fixed to the left. He was suffering from dysfunction on the left-hand side of the caudal lumbers (lower back) and pelvis combined with a significant amount of muscle spasm bilaterally over thoracolumbar region. Shadow had two McTimoney chiropractic treatments and responded well helping his recovery from this traumatic accident.


This is not to say that you should not play ball with your dog but as a dog owner there are

some important factors you can take into account to help reduce the risk of injury.



Young dogs (up to 18-24months) are still developing and although can seem to have an

endless amount of energy their bodies, they are vulnerable to excessive and long periods of

exercise. Constantly going back and forth retrieving a ball is a strenuous repetitive

exercise and the musculoskeletal system will be put under stress. Overloading the body at

a young age can increase the risk of chronic problems later on in life such as

osteoarthritis. Furthermore, young dogs tend to be more vulnerable to accidents such as

falling over, twisting/turning awkwardly or colliding with another dog or object so extra care

should be taken when playing ball.


On the other hand, the musculoskeletal system of an older dog is undergoing an ageing process

where tendons and ligaments become less elastic and degeneration of the joints may

occur. Strenuous ball throwing exercise puts these parts of the anatomy under stress

which can make them more vulnerable to injury.



Is your dog fit enough to play? Try to keep your weekly exercise regime consistent so that

your dog isn't suddenly asked to retrieve a ball a lot more usual. If the body is not familiar

with the exercise and is overloaded it increases the risk of injury to the musculoskeletal

system. It is best to build up such exercise slowly over a period of weeks so the dog can

get used to the new exercise.


If your dog has been diagnosed by a vet with a chronic lameness/condition or previously

suffered an injury to the musculoskeletal system they may be more vulnerable during ball

play. They may exacerbate the problem or cause re-injury to the affected area. If you are

not sure if ball play is suitable for your dog you should consult your vet and/or ask a

McTimoney therapist for advice.



Some dogs' chase instinct is extremely strong and you can throw a ball many times and

they will just keep going. It is you, the owner who is responsible for knowing when is

enough. Although mentally the dog may not seem tired - the physical effects of prolonged

exercise will cause their reactions and movements to be slower which can lead to trips or

over extension of a joint causing injury.


This is also apparent when throwing a ball high and a dog jumps into the air to catch it.

The instinct of the dog is to catch the ball no matter what so accidents can occur when the

dog lands awkwardly or in a heap. The dogs attention is so fixated on catching the ball that

they forget to concentrate on landing safely therefore could injure themselves.


So what can you do? Below are some tips to consider when playing ball with your


- Keep ball throwing to a minimum with young or elderly dogs.

- If you do play ball with your dog remember it is a strenuous repetitive exercise and keep

the amount low and consistent.

- If you are using a ball thrower device be careful where, how many times and how far you

are throwing it so that you are not overloading your dog or cause injury.

- Play alternative games such as ‘hide and seek' and ‘sit, wait and retrieve' which will

reduce the stress on the musculoskeletal system.

- If your dog has a previous problem or injury consult a vet or McTimoney therapist to find

out if ball play is appropriate.

- Make sure the path of your ball throw is clear of obstacles, people and other dogs.

- Avoid throwing balls high in the air so the dog does not jump up to catch it and land hard

or awkwardly.


By taking into account these factors you can make decisions on what is appropriate for

your own individual dog. Ball play is a great game and it is best if we can keep the dog

safe. If your dog is unfortunate and sustains an injury during play it is important to seek a

veterinary opinion and if appropriate McTimoney Chiropractic is an effective treatment for

getting your dog back to normal. Regular McTimoney treatments are beneficial for all types

of dogs keeping the musculoskeletal system healthy and mobile.


All members of the McTimoney Animal Association are qualified after training with the

premier institution of its kind, the McTimoney College in Abingdon, having studied up to

three years at postgraduate level attaining an MSc or Post Graduate Diploma in Animal Manipulation.


McTimoney Animal Practitioners are registered with the McTimoney Animal Association.



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