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DENVER/February 23, 2021 – Dogs with chronic lower back pain could eventually find relief from a treatment that already exists. Morris Animal Foundation-funded researchers at The Ohio State University (OSU) recently began a study to evaluate a noninvasive and affordable therapy for lower back pain in dogs, called extracorporeal shockwave therapy (ESWT).

Extracorporeal shockwave therapy involves the safe delivery of soundwaves to damaged soft tissue to lessen pain and speed healing. Studies in humans and horses show significant improvement in back pain after treatment. While it has been tried in dogs to stimulate bone healing and manage shoulder tendon injuries, this is the first official evaluation to assess if the therapy is effective for lower back pain.

“We really don’t have any objective evidence at all for this treatment yet, but if it is effective for pain management, it could really make a difference in these patients’ lives,” said Dr. Nina Kieves, Assistant Professor of Small Animal Orthopedic Surgery at Ohio State. “Right now, we are limited to oral medications or invasive injections into the spinal area, so this could hopefully be an additional treatment option for these dogs.”

Over the next six months, the team will enroll around 20 adult, large-breed dogs with lower back pain. The dogs initially will receive X-rays to ensure their pain is a result of a spine or disc issue and not due to cancer or bone infections. A veterinarian will perform a physical exam on each patient and evaluate their gait as the dogs walk over a pressure mat. This will measure how much weight the dogs are distributing on each limb, which will in turn be compared to results as dogs are treated to assess objective improvement.

Once baseline data collection is done, each dog will receive three ESWT treatments administered at two-week intervals. Each treatment takes roughly three minutes to complete.

The dogs’ improvements will be based primarily on questionnaires owners fill out to document behavior changes associated with pain seen at home. Secondarily, the team will perform another physical examination and retest the symmetry of each dog’s gait to evaluate weight distribution patterns post-treatment. Results of these tests will be analyzed to determine treatment effectiveness.

“Lower back pain is a lesser known but significant cause of discomfort for many dogs, and this therapy has the potential to improve their quality of life,” said Dr. Janet Patterson-Kane, Morris Animal Foundation Chief Scientific Officer. “If these results are promising this work could provide veterinarians with another evidence-based tool to use for pain management, complementary to other pain reduction strategies.”

If this initial pilot study is successful, Kieves hopes her findings will inform larger clinical trials in dogs with lower back pain.

Lower back pain is a leading cause of discomfort and early retirement in working dogs, such as German shepherds that assist in military and police functions. It also afflicts other large breeds and nonworking dogs such as Labrador retrievers. While medical or surgical treatment helps many dogs, up to 30% of canine patients fail to improve or have recurrence of symptoms.

About Morris Animal Foundation

Morris Animal Foundation’s mission is to bridge science and resources to advance the health of animals. Founded by a veterinarian in 1948, we fund and conduct critical health studies for the benefit of all animals. Learn more at