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Walking, dogs, and protection for your shoulders: Thoughts from a Specialist Shoulder Physiotherapi

Dr Mary Magarey demonstrating the use of a walking belt, with canine models Roxy and Ollie.

It has been really cold lately, cold enough to put you off getting out and walking your dog. But we shouldn’t let a bit of cold stop us exercising as we know how important exercise and fresh air are for us, and what better way to get some gentle regular exercise than walking the dog in the Barossa’s parks under the beautiful gum trees or beside the wonderful vineyards through the region? The dog for company, the birds chattering, crisp, fresh air that makes your toes and fingers tingle – you have to walk more to warm up and once you have warmed up, you have that wonderful feeling of being warm on the inside but still crispy cold on your skin. And the dog will love you for getting out – the cold doesn’t seem to bother them or their little paws at all.

But…what happens when your trusty Fido sees another dog and, while you are contemplating that koala in the tree overhead, he leaps forwards in enthusiastic greeting, pulling your arm almost out of its socket or pulling you over onto your outstretched hand? Not a nice way to end a lovely walk!

If you are over 50 years old, such an injury can cause damage to your rotator cuff tendons. The rotator cuff is a group of muscles that surround the shoulder joint and help to hold the arm bone in the socket. Injury to your rotator cuff can lead to pain, loss of movement and strength.

One way you can protect yourself, at least to some extent, against this type of injury, is to use a Velcro fastened belt with attached rings to hook your dog lead to. That way you can walk your dog with more confidence, as all the weight of the dog is not on your hand and shoulder, the majority is around your hips. You still need to hold the lead but if the dog pulls suddenly, you have a second brake, if you like, to protect your shoulder as the bulk of the force is transferred to your hips and legs.

But, I hear you cry – wouldn’t that mean that I would end up on my butt instead of my hand with possibly far worse consequences? That is certainly a possibility, but my experience of using such a belt for 8 years is that it doesn’t, even when with 2 dogs attached. The dogs can throw you off balance but because the pull is low down on your body, you are less likely to be pulled over.

So, using a belt in this way may not avoid you falling and injuring yourself while walking your dog but it does seem to reduce the risk of such an injury so why not explore the possibility and give it a try? That way, you do not need to fear for your shoulders and can still enjoy those crispy fresh winter mornings out in the park.

Belts like I am talking about are available at all good pet stores. There are a number of different brands so choose whichever seems to suit your needs and the size of your dog best and….


Dr Mary Magarey is a Specialist Musculoskeletal Physiotherapist and Specialist Sports & Exercise Physiotherapist as awarded by the Australian College of Physiotherapists.

Mary consults at Barossa Physiotherapy one day a week.

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