Raising the profile for more veterinary rehabilitation and sports medicine doctors

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Matthew Brunke, DVM, DACVSMR, CCRP, CVA, CCMT, a sports medicine and rehabilitation specialist, aimed to raise awareness for the role during a presentation at the 2022 Fetch dvm360® Conference in San Diego, California.

All doctors are specialists. They study medicine, they become experts on all aspects of the body and learn methods to provide the best possible care and help patients in their recovery.

Matthew Brunke, DVM, DACVSMR, CCRP, CVA, CCMT, serves in a role that is unique in veterinary medicine. A sports medicine and rehabilitation specialist for Veterinary Surgical Centers, based in Virginia, he aimed to raise awareness for the uncommon position and highlighted the need for more doctors in the field, during a presentation at the 2022 Fetch dvm360® Conference in San Diego, California .

During a session titled, “What Does a Veterinary Rehab and Sports Medicine Doctor do?” he enlightened the audience about his role and noted that he is not a surgeon. Veterinary sports medicine and rehabilitation doctors specialize in nonsurgical actions, focusing on mobility, fixing the pain, and improving the fitness of animals, from dog and cat athletes, military and police dogs and seniors, according to Brunke.

“My job is to keep surgeons in operating rooms. They like to cut, and they are really good at it. Historically, any animal that was limping in the past would just go through surgery,” Brunke said.

The origins of rehabilitation go back to treating humans more than a century ago, namely World War I soldiers, and equine rehabilitation wasn’t prevalent until the 1960s, Brunke noted. Equine and canine rehabilitation became mainstream in Europe and the United Kingdom in the 1980s, University of Tennessee focused on rehabilitation in 1998 and the Canine Rehabilitation Institute was founded in 2003. It wasn’t until 2010 that the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation what approved.

Brunke is a 2000 graduate in animal science (BS) at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York; earned his DMV in 2004 from Ross University’s School of Veterinary Medicine in Saint Kitts and Nevis, received certification in rehabilitation in 2008 from the University of Tennessee’s CCRP program in Knoxville; and gained practice experience at the American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, passing its boards in 2018.

Rehabilitation services are used for geriatric patients with mobility issues, young animals with congenital defects, those needing pre- and post-operation assistance, hospice/palliative care, and a list of animal conditions, such as arthritis, obesity, degenerative myelopathy, amputated limbs , trauma, and more. During his talk, Brunke listed 4 main goals when starting a case: detect the problem, control the pain, improve an animal’s strength, and enable them to maintain or return to function.

In 2017, the American Board of Veterinary Specialties, a committee of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), recommended the full recognition of this veterinary specialty. And, in 2018, AVMA’s executive board approved it.

Brunke has been shining the spotlight on this discipline ever since. He has been working closely with animals who need this nonsurgical care, taking orthopedic and neurological cases. “We are diagnosticians, we’re puzzle solvers,” he said.

His work includes doing a full physical assessment, examining symmetry/girth, range of motion, shifting weight/lameness, seeing how the pet walks or trots on a treadmill, and finding secondary effects and radiographs. Diagnostic options range, from X-rays, ultrasound, computerized tomography scan, magnetic resonance imaging, arthroscopy, a gait analysis, or a force plate. Treatment possibilities involve lasers or a pulsed electromagnetic field therapy, therapeutic exercises, movement on an underwater treadmill, using carts, orthoses and prostheses, intra-articular injections and more.


Brunke M. What Does a Veterinary Rehab and Sports Medicine Doctor do? Presented at: Fetch dvm360® Conference, December 2-4, 2022; San Diego, California