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Stop! No! Ouch! Unleashing Injury-Free Ways to Walk Your Dog

Wednesday, May 11, 2022 10:23 AM

By Karyn Odway

For some pet owners, taking a stroll with your dog is no walk in the park. Hand and wrist injuries are common.

Walking a dog in the sand

“I see a number of finger injuries, both ligament sprains and fractures,” said Steven Lanier, MD, hand surgeon at NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Institute. On average, he examines two patients a week suffering from dog walking-related pain in their hands or wrists. “Injuries often occur when the leash twists forcefully around a finger when a dog suddenly lunges or pulls, particularly if the owner is not paying attention. It can happen in an instant.” 

All it takes is a squirrel darting from a nearby tree or a cyclist whizzing by on the street. 

With warmer days now, how can dog owners prevent an injury to their hand or wrist?

“To avoid these injuries, never wrap the leash around your fingers but around the palm of your hand and form a grip, so an unexpected pull doesn’t catch you off guard,” advises Dr. Lanier, who spends the end of his workday walking his two-year-old Aussiedoodle, Pippen. 

Here are more tips from Dr. Lanier:   

  • Train your dog for leash walking. Avoiding episodes of lunging or darting at distractions is a behavior that you can teach your dog not to do with time and consistent training.  Prevention is the best cure!
  • Be aware of your surroundings. Similarly, remaining aware of the environment and anticipating potential distractions for your dog (another dog, squirrel, cyclist) can allow you to prepare for a lunge. Try to avoid walking your dog while distracted by looking at your smartphone.
  • Avoid a loosely draped leash around your hand. When the dog pulls suddenly, you don’t want your hand to get caught in the leash.  Remain aware of how you are holding the leash and ensure it is not wrapped around a finger. 
  • Keep your dog on a shorter leash. A shorter leash when needed can help better control your dog’s actions.

Injuries happen year-round, but the type of injury tends to vary by season. “In the winter months, I treat a number of wrist injuries, most commonly distal radius fractures, when dog owners lose their balance while out for a walk.” With each winter snowstorm, Dr. Lanier prepares for a surge in wrist surgeries the following week, particularly when the weather warms temporarily and then cools again, resulting in icing of roads and sidewalks. “It’s a fact of life in Chicago,” he notes, “the natural tendency is to break your fall with an outstretched hand.”

Swelling and bruising are symptoms you might have broken your wrist. Dr. Lanier suggests you see an orthopaedic specialist immediately to evaluate the injury. “If the broken bone is not displaced, we can often treat these injuries with a cast or splint.  For more significant injuries, surgery may be necessary, but it’s important to know early.”  Undiagnosed injuries can lead to problems that are more difficult to treat down the line. 

It may take several weeks for the pain of a ligament sprain to resolve and taking anti-inflammatory medication can be beneficial.  Still, you might want to get the injury checked out by a physician. “I treat a majority of injuries nonoperatively, but often getting the right diagnosis early and starting appropriate therapy exercises can make a huge difference in decreasing long term issues such as finger stiffness.”  

Surgery is a last resort option but might be necessary to ensure you’re soon walking alongside your precious pooch again injury free.


The NorthShore Orthopaedic & Spine Center provides comprehensive, personalized treatment for patients. From the most advanced diagnostic imaging to specially trained physical therapists and expert physicians including surgeons like Dr. Lanier who perform innovative and minimally invasive procedures to correct all hand and wrist conditions, the Center offers convenient access and expert care.