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Non-Surgical Management of Disc Herniations

28 Nov 2021

By Laurie Edge-Hughes, BScPT, MAnimSt (Animal Physio), CAFCI, CCRT


I received an email a couple of weeks ago and it has excited me tremendously!

Dear Laurie,

I hope you do not mind me contacting you.  I am currently a PhD student and resident in neurology and neurosurgery at the Queen’s Veterinary School Hospital in Cambridge and I was directed to your blog post on conservative management of intervertebral disc extrusions by another member of the team.  I mainly wanted to get in touch because over the last two years we have been looking into conservative management of extrusions along with several other aspects such as resorption of disc material, calcification scoring for breeding and mineral analysis and thought you may be interested.  Our aim is to show that conservative management is a valid treatment option and to try to identify which dogs absolutely require surgery to get better and which are likely to get better with conservative management.  I know you are based in North America and so this is probably not directly useful to you but just thought you may be interested.  If you would like to know more we have our own Facebook page (@CambridgeIVDD) and please feel free to email me.

Kind Regards,

Sam Khan BVetMed MRCVS

PhD Student and Senior Clinical Training Scholar in Neurology and Neurosurgery


So, I looked it up, and, “Yeehaw!!!”  They have been doing research on non-surgical management for Intervertebral Disc Disease, and their findings thus far have indicated that non-surgical management is as good and actually better than surgical management.  They are very careful not to phrase it that way… but that’s what they’re finding!  This delights me to no end, because this is exactly what we have been finding in the clinic as well!


Lots of great info to direct you to:

The Facebook Page:

Nov 2020

Canine IVDD – Cambridge Research Update:

April 2021

Cambridge Vet School IVDD Webinar:

Handouts for the presentation:

June 2021

IVDD Cambridge Vet School Q & A:

Nov 2021

My dog has IVDD. What now?:



Here’s a brief overview of the research project:

Just to whet your appetite, I went through all of the presentations and handout and decided to pick and choose some of the information to share.


Dog recruited to the study are less than 15 kg (this is what was said verbally in the last presentation, but I see it differs from the slide above), suspected of thoracolumbar (mid-back) disc extrusion (where disc material has leaked into the spinal canal), are not able to walk, and whose owners are unable to afford surgery.  Evaluations, as described in the picture above, are conducted on initial presentation and at 12 weeks.


Intervention includes

1.  Strict rest especially for the first 4 weeks to prevent further extrusion.  Crate rest (big enough to stand, stretch, or turn) is advised in order to prevent a dog from doing something dangerous.  Physiotherapy activities are the only exception to this rule.

2.  Bladder Management – owners are instructed in how to express the bladder.  One take away point is to always have a second go at expressing even if you think you got it all.

3.  Physiotherapy – The discussion around physio was about ROM and massage, but the researchers were quick to say that they could only touch on basics, and recommended working with a qualified veterinary physiotherapist / rehab practitioner.


Some of the preliminary findings (as of April 2021) were that they had 19 dogs in the study.  6/19 were grade 5 (paralyzed and lacking pain perception).  Four of these had recovered the ability to walk by the end of the 12 weeks.  In the remaining 13 dogs who were paralyzed but had pain sensation, 12/13 had recovered the ability to walk within 12 weeks.  The one dog that hadn’t, simply hadn’t reached the 12-week mark yet.  Time to walking is 17.5 days.


NOTE: What’s fascinating about the numbers above is that the typical reported success for surgery for grades 3 and 4 cases is 86% and for grade 5 cases, recovery is reported to be 60%.  (see below)  However, the preliminary findings of this non-surgical study, show better results than that!!


Canine Disc Disease Grading & Traditional Findings Regarding Recovery


Some of the other findings are that they are seeing spinal cord swelling on MRI, which seems to correlate with clinical signs.  The amount of extruded disc material changes over time and is sometimes removed completely.  However, full removal / resorption of the disc extrusion isn’t necessary for recovery.


While MRI and surgery are still the standard, this research is showing that when surgery is not possible then there is still a chance for dos to regain walking and bowel and bladder (in the case of grade 5 neuro dogs).  If deep pain is still present then, from what I can see with the research as presented, is that conservative management appears to be better than surgery.  The fear for any veterinarian or practitioner is the chance of further deterioration.  However, the old adage of the ‘48 hours window in which to do surgery before permanent damages are incurred’, has been disproven.


The most recent webinar I watched (November 10, 2021) didn’t provide any additional statistics, however, it was noted that they had 48 dogs in the study so far and were hoping for another 50 or so within the next year.


How exciting is this!!!???  I’ll be following this work closely, as I can’t wait for the next update!


In the meantime, if you own a dog or know a dog that has had a disc herniation or disc extrusion, then just know that the therapists here at The Canine Fitness Centre Ltd. are able to provide therapies and guidance to help you manage the situation without surgery.  We have found that adding therapies such as laser, electrical muscle stimulation, gentle mobilizations, traction, and specific exercises are beneficial.  We’ve been providing these services for years to paralyzed dogs, or those with coordination issues.  It’s only now that veterinary research is proving what we’ve be seeing all along.


We’re here to help!



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