The Secret to Helping Dogs with Back Stiffness or Hip/Knee Injuries

acl canine canine back stiffness canine hip canine knee injury ccl cranial cruciate ligament dogs lumbar circle lumbar lift Feb 05, 2020

Let’s say you see a dog who’s hurting. Maybe he’s an older dog with a stiff, arthritic spine. Or perhaps she’s a younger dog with hip dysplasia or a torn knee ligament.

Don’t you wish you could instantly help such a dog feel better?  


I’d like to share a simple, hands-on technique that has helped hundreds of aging and injured dogs feel immediate relief.

It can provide soothing support to overworked, sore muscles and help set the stage for healing. Because it’s so effective, I use this hands-on technique frequently. I call it the Lumbar Lift, for reasons that will become obvious. But first, let me tell you how it helped Clyde.

Clyde, a large black Lab mix, hobbled into my office, aided by his person Suzanne. The dog was holding up his right hind leg. And although he could bear weight on it, his left hind leg didn’t look that stable either. The poor boy!

This 70-pound dog was under the care of both integrative and allopathic veterinarians, who had recently diagnosed Clyde with tears in both cranial cruciate ligaments. The cranial cruciate ligament, or CCL, is an important knee ligament.  

It’s not uncommon for dogs to injure this knee ligament. When the damage is severe, they’re usually in pain and unable to bear weight on the injured hind leg.

Some of these injuries happen suddenly and you may hear the dog yelp in pain, then immediately hold up the injured hind leg.

But CCL tears can also happen gradually. In these cases, the dog injures the ligament a little bit at a time. You may not notice that your dog has a problem until these micro tears build up and become a painful, debilitating injury.


Dogs can either completely rupture the cranial cruciate ligament or have a partial tear.

Clyde had a complete rupture in his right CCL and a partial tear in his left CCL. Upon getting this disturbing diagnosis, Suzanne scheduled the first-available appointment with a veterinary orthopedist. Unfortunately, she couldn’t get Clyde in to see the specialist for a few days. Clyde’s regular vet had already prescribed the maximum dose of prescription anti-inflammatory pain relievers.

Even with strong painkillers, Clyde was uncomfortable. As an exuberant five-year-old dog, he had always found it challenging to relax for long periods. Although pain forced him to lie down, he seemed depressed and uncomfortable.      

Suzanne reached out to me, asking if I could teach her how to help Clyde feel better. I was happy to oblige.


Although Clyde clearly has a lot of Labrador in him, a breed known for friendliness, Suzanne said that her dog was suspicious of new people.

Clyde was rescued from an abusive situation, so that may explain his mistrust of strangers. Suzanne wasn’t sure how he would react to me, especially given his current level of discomfort.

After we made our introductions, I guided Clyde to the large, comfy green blanket that I had placed on the floor of my office. He gingerly laid down.


I started our session by doing Connected Breathing, which helped Clyde relax and become comfortable with me touching him.

As the session progressed, I did a few hands-on strategies to help improve Clyde’s overall comfort. I made sure to address the dog’s overworked shoulders, rib cage and neck.

Then I moved on to his lower back.  

Mary doing a Lumbar Lift with a border collie named Maggie


As I gently supported the muscles in Clyde’s lumbar, or lower back, region, the relief was clearly visible in Clyde’s facial expression, with his eyes first softening and then closing completely. Clyde’s breathing slowed and deepened. Suzanne said that she hadn’t seen her dog that relaxed in a very long time.


Even though I was a stranger, the magic of Lumbar Lifts had won Clyde over.

This gentle support of the lumbar region is what I call a Lumbar Lift. I’ve found that Lumbar Lifts can help stop the downward spiral that often accompanies pain or stiffness in the back, hips and knees.

Clyde’s lumbar muscles were very tight, sore and fatigued from compensating for the pain that he felt in his hind legs. As I supported them, I could feel the muscles softening under my hands.


The feeling I get when I help a dog feel better never, ever gets old.  

Suzanne was thrilled to see Clyde so relaxed and happy. She was eager to learn how to do Lumbar Lifts with Clyde, so she could continue his progress at home.

And she would, of course, follow the treatment recommendations of the veterinary orthopedist.

Whether a dog has orthopedic surgery or non-surgical management of CCL tears, Lumbar Lifts can be an important tool in helping the dog make a full recovery from a knee ligament injury.  


Do you want to learn how to do Lumbar Lifts too? Most dogs love them*.  


 Benefits of Lumbar Lifts include:

  • May relieve low back stress and strain, which often accompanies hind leg problems
  • As with all Debono Moves, they enhance body awareness and are comforting and pleasurable for most dogs


Position: You can do Lumbar Lifts with your dog in any position, but it is easiest to learn the technique when your dog is lying flat on his side. That is the position we’ll explore here.  

Practice with your dog. Let’s assume that your dog is lying on his right side. Sit behind your dog so that you are facing his tail. If you need to, modify the position so that you are comfortable.  Put your right hand on your dog’s lower back, to the left of his spine. Your right hand should be just behind the back of your dog’s rib cage. You’ll find that this area is “meatier” than your dog’s rib cage. Gently but securely support your dog’s left hind leg with your left hand. Refer to the photo for the proper hand placement.

Using a very gentle pressure of your right hand, lightly press the muscle toward your dog’s head.  Allow your hand to mold to the contours of your dog’s body, distributing the pressure evenly throughout your hand.

Hold the lift for several seconds.  Don’t forget to breathe!  Keep your hands soft as you support your dog.  Release the lift very slowly and repeat the process a few times.  If your dog is comfortable, there is no need to put the hind leg down between Lumbar Lifts.  If your dog isn’t suffering from any painful condition, you can do a few Lumbar Lifts and then move on to Lumbar Circles, which are described below. 


Lumbar Circles

 Benefits of Lumbar Circles may include:

  • Enhanced flexibility and coordination
  • Can restore body confidence after an injury has healed
  • Improved flexibility and coordination of your back and hips too


Lumbar Circles are a fun way for you and your dog to improve your comfort, flexibility and coordination at the same time!   

Sit comfortably and lightly hold your hands in front of you with your elbows bent. Slowly move your pelvis in a circle. Make a few slow circles. Can you feel your arms moving a little bit?  Do several circles in each direction until you are satisfied that you can feel your arms respond to the movement of your pelvis. Now ask your dog to lie down on her side.  


Position:  You can do Lumbar Circles with your dog in any position, but it is easiest to learn the technique when your dog is lying flat on her side. That is the position we’ll explore here.

Practice with your dog.  We’ll assume that your dog is lying on her right side. As with Lumbar Lifts above, sit behind your dog’s tail. Put your right hand on your dog’s lower back, to the left of her spine. Your hand should be just behind the back of your dog’s rib cage. Gently support your dog’s left hind leg with your left hand. 

Using a very gentle pressure of your right hand, do a Lumbar Lift. Allow your hand to mold to the contours of your dog’s body, distributing the pressure evenly throughout your hand. Maintaining this support with your hand, do a few slow pelvic circles.

Your hands will lightly support your dog’s muscles and your arms should be passive. As you move your pelvis in a circle, you will notice that your arms are being moved too.   

Letting your pelvis move your arms generally feels more pleasurable to your dog than if you initiated the movement with your arms. It’s also healthier for you, as it reduces wear and tear on shoulders, elbows and hands.  As with all Debono Moves, both you and your dog can benefit when these exercises are done mindfully.     

Do a few slow circles in each direction.  Gradually stop your movement, pause, and remove your hands slowly.  Ask your dog to turn onto her other side and repeat. 


*As with any hands-on work, never do anything that causes your dog pain or anxiety. Always use a very light, delicate touch and gentle movements. Seek the guidance of your veterinarian before doing any hands-on or movement program with your dog.  



You may not have heard of the CCL, but you may have heard of the ACL. In fact, many people refer to a dog’s cranial cruciate ligament (CCL) as the ACL. But ACL, or anterior cruciate ligament, is the term used in human anatomy. It’s common for humans to injure the ACL.

Even though it’s not technically correct, many people use CCL and ACL interchangeably when referring to canine anatomy.


In the video, Mary mentions her Amazon #1 best-selling book, Grow Young with Your Dog.  Click here to learn more about the book. 

Grow Young with Your Dog is also available on Amazon.    

Book purchase includes online access to over 55 minutes of video and 3 1/2 hours of audio instruction at no extra cost. 

Praise for Grow Young with Your Dog:

“Mary combines an amazing knowledge of anatomy, movement, structure, behavior combined with love, empathy and observation. Best of all she is articulate and a good communicator. This book will forever change how you view not only your dog, but all animals! It will forever change how you interact with your dog and all animals, including humans!!”  – Tina Steward, DVM 

"A unique and fascinating book. Highly readable and full of illustrated, useful day-to-day information on how to keep both you and your best friend in optimum health. Mary Debono's method is revolutionary, combining exercises and hands-on therapy that encourages healing and recovery from surgery or illness as well as behavioral issues. Her mission is deepen the bond between people and their pets. A must for anyone seeking ways to stay young with your dog." —Sandy Johnson, author of Miracle Dogs; Adventures on Wheels       


Would you like to know 3 Steps to Improve Your Dog's Mobility and Vitality? Do you have an aging, injured or anxious dog? Want to reduce your canine athlete's risk of injury?

Grab your FREE video masterclass today! Just click here. 

Get stuff I don't share anywhere else. Join my FREE Facebook group: Dedicated to Dogs: Health and Vitality For You & Your Dog. 

Please note that I'm not a veterinarian. All the info I share is for general informational purposes only and should NEVER replace veterinary care. Please consult a veterinarian if your dog is ill or injured.