Crumble the Alpaca with a stiff leg!

Crumble is a 4yo male alpaca who was registered as female when he was born and went with his mum into a female herd. This was due to the fact that he has an undescended testicle and he tends to urinate in tiny amounts. By the time he was 2.5 years he did start to show some male behaviours but a hormone injection helped to reduce that and he has been with his current owner now for about 2 years and is well accepted in the herd. Crumble’s main issue, however, is that his right hindlimb stifle locks sometimes so rather than being able to move normally, he has to swing his hindlimb round and outwards from the hip. This was happening most days. Initially his owner Anne could see he could release it by extending his hindlimb but recently he had developed a tendency to just swing the limb in repeated circles. The vet saw him, and diagnosed laxity of one ligament and tightness in the other but did not suspect any cartilage damage at this time.

Anne wanted to see what else she could do to help Crumble so called on McTimoney Animal Chiropractor Nikki Routledge. Nikki went out to see Crumble, and she noticed straight away that Crumble was holding his right hindlimb out sideways and turning out through whole leg when the stifle locked but then was able to turn the limb inwards so it was much straighter when he was able to flex it normally. The first step in treatment was to assess how symmetrical Crumble’s spine and pelvis were to see if marked asymmetry particularly of the pelvis was making it harder for Crumble to release the stifle and unlock the limb. Nikki explains, “I found that in the mid to lower back there was a marked curve right and Crumble’s pelvis was also notably rotated down and tilted back on the right side too. There was tension throughout his long back muscles and he was tight around his hips from holding the pelvis in an asymmetric position to bring RH limb through laterally. Basically, Crumble had been twisting through his back to try bring the right hindlimb forwards and sideways and this was causing compensatory stiffness through his back and pelvis which then made it even more difficult for him to bring the hindlimb forwards again, like a constant negative cycle compounding the problem.”

Whilst treatment to the spine and pelvis was achieved despite Crumble’s unamused expression, Nikki felt that Crumble needed to build up the strength in the musculature around the right hindlimb, particularly the quadriceps, for longer term recovery to be possible, and this could only be achieved by using targeted exercises for Crumble. Ponies with similar issues can respond favourably by stepping over poles regularly to activate these muscles so Anne put poles in a small channelled area for Crumble to walk over as he grazed each day. However, it turns out that alpacas are completely different to ponies and Crumble would walk over the poles once, graze and then lie down, so this exercise set up was not going to work. Instead, Anne would catch Crumble and lead him every day over the poles for 10-15minutes. Within a week Anne noticed that Crumble was able to bend his stifle correctly about 80% of the time over the poles and reported that Crumble was walking normally slightly more frequently in the field too.

Crumble had two further follow-up treatments, and there was a huge improvement in Crumble’s spinal and pelvic symmetry with only minor adjustments required and a softening of the back musculature as well. Crumble’s movement continued to improve both over the poles and when turned out the field too. Nikki says, “It was interesting to see how Crumble responded. He is lucky to have an owner like Anne who was dedicated to leading him over the poles each day. We also introduced turning exercises, encouraging him to step under his body with the right hind when he could flex it as I felt that if we could improve his proprioceptive awareness of how his limb was positioned, then he could work out how to unlock it too. He tended to lock the limb when under stress from a particularly bossy alpaca in the herd, but when he relaxed or was approaching the poles, he would turn his right hindlimb inwards and step normally again. After his third treatment, we also introduced walking up and down hill each day in his field again to try to develop his muscular strength around the right stifle and encourage normal proprioception and movement.”

“Crumble is an unusual case and is likely to always have a tendency to lock his stifle unless we can keep him strong in that limb and symmetrical in his spine and pelvis. It is possible that his stifle issue is also congenital when we bear in mind that he also has his undescended testicle which is highly unusual in alpacas as well. However, with Anne’s careful care and regular monitoring, he is likely to enjoy a long and happy life with his herd friends.”

Anne adds, “It has been interesting working with Nikki and Crumble I was surprised how quickly he responded when Nikki manipulated his spine, the change was noticeable immediately, his spine looked flatter and straighter and he was able to move more freely. I enjoyed working with Nikki to adapt the exercises for alpacas. I am very pleased with the outcome; Crumble’s leg still locks occasionally but he has learnt to release it after a couple of steps.”