Nerve Release bodywork is any modality that specializes in creating healthy space around the peripheral nerves to aid in as much healthy function as possible and to alleviate compressive neuropathy.
There are many different types of bodyworkers that have various education around this style of treatment. Select massage therapists, chiropractors and osteopaths are at the top of that list.
For me, I went through training as a human massage therapist that specialized in nerve release and have spent the last several years transferring those techniques over to my equine clients along with my equine structural integration education and my lifetime as a competitive rider.
Some of the most common treatments that I give my human clients are relief for their thoracic outlet syndrome, tennis elbow, carpal tunnel and sciatica.
Thoracic outlet syndrome for instance typically takes me 3 sessions and a client who is actively doing their homework to alleviate the chronic nerve fire by creating adequate space between the first rib and the clavicle through careful myofascial release work so the nerves are no longer compressed.
If they were to go to their doctor instead, they would be referred to an orthopedic surgeon who would recommend shaving down part of the clavicle to create space for the brachial plexus to no longer be compressed so the neuropathic pain would alleviate.
Carpal tunnel is another ailment that frequently gets recommended for surgery and yet my instructors had countless case studies where they “cured” the ailment.
The disconnect even in human medicine around nerve impingement and compressive neuropathy is incredibly high, so naturally we find that to be the case in horses.
“It does not serve the body to have a nerve impingement and so it’s not likely.”
“If horses struggled with that amount of nerve pain, we could not ride them.”
I don’t know about you, reader, but I personally have suffered from chronic nerve pain off and on for YEARS.
Undiagnosed for 15 years, actually.
And yet somehow, I was able to continue working.
Because I had to pay bills and that’s just what happens.
The same for our horses.
They have to go to work.
Neuropathy does not always make them 3 legged lame, (though sometimes it absolutely does).
Most times, I don’t think people even notice because they are so good at adapting quickly to fit their environment.
Others, are more catastrophic in their demonstrations and I personally think that is a testament to nerves.
Depending on the severity of the compression and/or the location, the symptoms can vary greatly, which is also what makes it hard for Veterinarians to diagnose.
A few common cases that come up that are alleviated within one treatment are:
Head shaking syndrome
Reluctance to move forward
Undiagnosed lameness that cannot be blocked
Chronic tension in the base of the neck and shoulders
In my personal work, I find that most horses that are struggling with this are dealing with compressive neuropathy particularly around the cervicothoracic region (brachial plexus) and the lumbosacral region (lumbosacral plexus).
While technically still anecdotal as I have not yet dived down into the peer-review hole, my belief after watching several hundred horses over the years transform under my hands is that these ailments are frequently caused from a lack of correct muscling to support the skeletal structures from compressing the nerves.
Which, is precisely why the BTMM pillars have a list of case specific exercises to help isolate and activate the muscles necessary for supporting those structures.
(My little masterclass where I lecture about all of it has grown to over 2,000 members because the work speaks for itself https://www.wildmagicllc.com/master-class)
Restoring integrity in the horse through correct development is what I believe is balancing the skeletal structure to allow for healthy nerve flow and function.
It is what many people call, “The Missing Piece” to their training programs because of the immediate changes the horses find in their behavior and their movement, of which I simply attribute to healthy nerve function and restoring the missing movements within their natural gait.
Now, what is compressive neuropathy?
Compressive neuropathy is usually caused by repetitive motions that affect an area where a nerve travels.
The lower cervical spine, cervicothoracic region and the lumbar-sacral region are the highest documented regions for this to be the case due to the bundles of nerves that reside there.
Long term compression of these places (compressive neuropathy) can result in ganglionitis.
Ganglionitis is inflammation of clusters of nerve cells that form the ganglia to which neuropathic pain syndrome has been associate with.
The only documented treatment at this time is Gabapentin and rest.
There is no known documented cause.
I am working desperately hard to change that by educating as many as I can.
And now comes the fun part – Science is catching up to what I’ve been teaching these past several years.
Check out this incredible study on "Neuropathic Pain May Be Root Cause Of Dangerous Equine Behavior."
“A Colorado State University research team hypothesized that some dangerous behaviors may be caused by axial skeleton pain. The study team identified 14 young to middle-aged sport horses that became difficult to train and ride after their purchase. Though easy to handle for general care, when asked to work under saddle, they became dangerous. All of the horses underwent extensive evaluations and treatments, but each was euthanized as they were deemed “too dangerous” to be ridden safely. The scientists reviewed all available records on the horses, including diagnostic evaluations and treatments, as well as performance history and lameness, behavioral, physical and neurologic exams. A tentative diagnosis was formulated that involved the cervicothoracic and lumbosacral regions of the spinal cord. Bone, soft tissue, and neural tissues were examined after the horses were euthanized. All horses had moderate to severe ganglionitis present at multiple vertebral levels. Subdural and epidural hemorrhage or hematomas were found in the cervicothoracic and lumbosacral regions of 71 percent of the horses. The researchers concluded that the study horse's dangerous behavior was caused by nervous system lesions which caused neuropathic pain.”
For the record - successfully treating middle age sport horses that 'became dangerous' is what BTMM was built on!