MLS Master Class - Veterinary Imaging
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Practical treatment 2:  The Hindlimb

Carl Gorman BVSc MRCVS

Key words :   Laser, therapeutic, hip, stifle, hock 



As for the forelimb, treatment of condition of the hindlimb may be treated by both localised therapy, applying the laser directly to affected joints and tissues, or by globalised therapy, stimulating acupuncture or myofascial trigger points.  The muscles surrounding an affected joint should be palpated for taut bands and then hypersensitive trigger points may be detected along these bands.  These can be directly treated to relieve the pain and referred signs associated with them.

The hip

The hip or coxo-femoral joint is an enarthrosis connecting the pelvis and the femur.  This ball and socket joint is very robust.  It is surrounded by a joint capsule forming a robust sleeve.  An intra-articular ligament, the teres ligament of the hip, provides additional stability.  Strong muscle masses add to the strength of the joint.  These are the pelvic muscles, the iliopsoas and the thigh muscles.

The joint capsule is associated with the following structures;

                Cranially with the head of the quadriceps femoris

                Dorsally with the deep gluteal

                Caudally with the gemelli

                Medially with the adductor muscles

Treatment of the hip

The aim of conservative treatment with the laser is to reduce pain and inflammation in the periarticular soft tissues, whilst post-surgery treatment aims to reduce pain and oedema and to accelerate scarring of the tissues.  During treatment, apply the laser to the lateral and medial surfaces of the joint.  Access the medial surface via the inguinal area.  Concentrate on those areas that are painful on palpation, and otherwise administering energy in a uniform way over the whole joint. (Fig 1,2, 3, 4)


Fig 1    Treatment points on the lateral hip


Fig 2    Treatment points on the medial hip


Fig 3     Lateral hip anatomy


Fig 4     Area of medial hip to aim the laser


If the patient will allow, treatment of the hip joint from the medial side (the groin area) allows better access to the hip itself.

Point treatment is suitable for the hip itself, while scanning mode should be used to treat discomfort in associated hip and paravertebral muscles. (Fig 5).


Fig 5   Areas associated with the hip which may be affected by muscle contracture


The following muscles should be checked for contractures when assessing the hip: (Table 1)

  • Gluteals
  • Quadriceps femoris
  • Biceps femoris
  • Gracilis
  • Semimembranosus
  • Semitendinosus







Biceps femoris

Ischial tuber

Patella, tibial crest and calcaneus



Greater trochanter

Quadriceps (vastus medialis, lateralis and intermedius)

Proximal femur

Tibial tuberosity via the patella and patellar tendon

Quadriceps (rectus femoris)

Ilium just cranial to acetabulum


Pubic symphysis

Medial aspect of the stifle and calcaneus


Ventral aspect of ischial tuber

Medial aspect of the femur and tibia


Ventral aspect of ischial tuber

Tibial crest and calcaneus

 Table 1 - Origins and insertions of some hindlimb muscles


The paravertebral muscles in the lumbar and sacral areas should also be checked.   Treatment of these muscles will often help in treating hip pain and should be included.

Trigger points may be found in the quadriceps femoris and the middle gluteal.

Examples of conditions of the hip

  • Hip dysplasia (Fig 6, 7)
  • Legg-CalvĂ©-Perthes disease (Fig 8)
  • Dislocation
  • Gracilis and semitendinosus myopathy

Fig 6 Hip OA

Fig 6 Osteoarthritis associated with hip dysplasia


Fig 7  Radiograph  of a severe case of hip dysplasia


Fig 8 Radiograph of a case of Legg-Calve-Perthes disease

The Stifle

The joint between the femur and tibia is a condyloid composite articulation.  The articular surfaces are the femoral condyles, the articular surface of the patella, and the articular surface of the tibia (the tibial plane).  Because these articular surfaces do not come into direct contact with each other the joint depends on accessory structures to complete the articulation, in particular the lateral and medial menisci.

There is a large joint capsule connecting the bones, reinforced by several strong ligaments, notably the straight patellar ligament and the medial and lateral collateral ligaments.  As well as the ligaments, several tendons are associated with the stifle:

  • Cranially, the distal end of the quadriceps femoris
  • Laterally, the biceps femoris
  • Medially, the adductors of the thigh and the fasciae latae
  • Caudally, the two ends of the gastrocnemius

Treatment of the stifle

For conservative management of conditions of the stifle, the aim of treatment with the laser is to reduce inflammation and pain in the periarticular structures.  Post-operatively the aim of treatment is to reduce pain and oedema and to accelerate scarring.

Include all articular surfaces when administering treatment, concentrating on areas which are painful on palpation, while also administering energy in an even manner over both the lateral and medial sides of the joint. (Fig 9,10,11,12).

Fig 9 Stifle Lateral Replacement

Fig 9   Treatment points on the lateral stifle



Fig 10 Treatment points on the medial stifle


Fig 11 Treatment points on the lateral stifle (skeletal)



Fig 12  Treatment points on the medial stifle (skeletal)

Point treatment is suitable for the lateral and medial stifle itself, while scanning mode should be used when treating discomfort and contracture in the associated muscles.

Look for contracture in the associated muscles, particularly the quadriceps femoris and biceps femoris.  Active trigger points may be found in the quadriceps femoris.

Examples of conditions of the stifle

  • Cranial cruciate ligament rupture
  • Patella luxation
  • Osteochondritis dissecans
  • Quadriceps contracture

(Fig 13, 14, 15).

Fig 13 IMG_9558

Fig 13 Treating a stifle injury

Fig 14 IMG_9560

Fig 14 Ensure all surfaces of a joint are treated



Fig 15 Quadriceps contracture in an American Bulldog (photo Kimberley DiMaio)

The hock

The hock is a complex joint containing articulations between the bones of the tarsus as well as connecting the tarsus to the distal metatarsus.  The joint is the equivalent of the ankle in humans.  There are several joints involved and all are diarthroses.

The joint is surrounded by a large joint capsule, which is reinforced by

  • Long and short lateral collateral ligaments
  • Long and short medial collateral ligaments
  • Dorsal tarsal ligament
  • Long plantar ligament

Treatment of the hock

Following surgery, MLS laser therapy is used to reduce pain and oedema and to accelerate scarring.  In conservative management of hock injuries, the laser is used to reduce inflammation of the periarticular tissues and so reduce pain.

The laser should be applied to both medial and lateral surfaces of the joint to try to reach all articular surfaces.  Concentrate on any areas which are painful on palpation, and otherwise try to deliver and even amount of energy over the whole joint.

Point treatment is suitable for treating the hock itself.  It is important to treat the associated muscle groups as contracture is common in these tissues, affecting joint mobility and causing pain.  Remember that the main muscle bodies of these muscles may be located proximally, nearer to the stifle joint.  Scanning mode should be used on the muscles.

Examples of conditions of the hock

  • Osteochonditis dissecans (OCD), mainly on the medial ridge of the talar trochlea
  • Tendon and ligament injuries, e.g. luxation and subluxation, and Achilles tendon rupture


Practical laser treatment of hindlimb conditions

Frequency of treatment

Treatments should be administered two or three times weekly depending on the clinical condition.

Programmes recommended

1)      Post surgery or for acute pain:

  • 'Post surgery', 'Acute inflammation' or 'Acute pain'
  • Normally use point mode.
  • Consider reducing intensity during the first 2 or 3 treatments (use 50% intensity rather than 100%)

2)      Conservative treatment of chronic conditions:

  • 'Chronic inflammation', 'Arthrosis' or 'Chronic pain'
  • Use point mode over joints

3)      Muscle contractures

  • For acute cases use 'Acute pain'.
  • For chronic cases use 'Sprain/strain' or 'Muscle contracture'.
  • Use scan mode to cover the contracted area and surrounding tissue.