Iliopsoas Strain in Dogs

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Whether it’s humans or dogs, the iliopsoas muscles come up a lot in treatment of low back, pelvic, and hip pain.  This can range from muscle tightness to muscle injury, with associated levels of lameness. 

The Iliopsoas

The iliopsoas includes the iliacus and psoas muscles. Together they are the main hip flexors, meaning that they bring the knees to the chest. 

The iliopsoas muscle originates from the low back (psoas) and the front of the pelvis (iliacus), crossing the hip joint, and attaching to the the top of the thigh bone.

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How is the Iliopsoas injured?

An acute ilopsoas strain can occur when the muscle is “overstretched”. This may happen if the dog loses its footing while running or abruptly changing direction. The dog effectively “does the splits”. It is common in athletic and sporting dogs.

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Iliopsoas Strain

An iliopsoas strain is when a hip flexor muscle is damaged. It is graded according to the number of muscle fibres damaged:

  • Grade 1: Muscle fibres stretched, no tears
  • Grade 2: Some muscle fibres torn
  • Grade 3: Complete tear / all muscle fibres torn


While lameness will present in more serious injuries, in mild cases you may only see a shortening of the stride, with the back legs not extending out behind the dog fully. This will be more obvious at faster speeds and jumping.

In more chronic cases the iliopsoas may be “adaptively shortened”, tight and painful to stretch. This may show in the dogs posture with a rounding of the low back and the back legs being bought closer to the front legs. There may be no obvious lameness and it may affect one or both back legs.

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Diagnosis of Iliopsoas Strain:

Direct palpation of the iliopsoas typically results in marked discomfort and will confirm this diagnosis. Hip extension and concurrent internal rotation can also cause discomfort.

While physical examination findings are generally diagnostic, additional scans such as x-ray, ultrasound, or MRI may be beneficial. They will also help rule out lameness due to hip pathology.

Treatment of Iliopsoas Strain:

Early detection and treatment are important in the management of iliopsoas strain. Depending on the severity of the injury, your dog may need several weeks to months of strict rest to prevent re-injury. This means no jumping, playing, or running, with leashed toilet breaks only. 

Manual therapy with stretching and massage can also be pursued from an early stage. Laser therapy or acupuncture may also be beneficial. 

Having completed the strict rest, leashed walks and hydrotherapy can slowly be introduced. No concussive activities, like jumping and playing, are allowed until later in the rehabilitation.

It is important that you talk to your Vet and /or seek out a Canine Rehabilitation Professional to design a rehabilitation program for return to activity. 

If you would like to learn more about the rehabilitation of dogs with iliopsoas strain, click here. This guide goes into the details of the rehabilitation process.

Author: Dr. Rachel Mahoney (Osteopath)