How an osteopath would treat nerve related problems

By Siun Griffin, Veterinary Physiotherapist and Rachel Pechek, Animal Osteopath and LCAO Head Instructor 

Osteopathy and Nerves

We received a question some time ago about how an osteopath approaches nerve related problems. There are many facets to this topic and we will try and touch on each of them in this post. 

First off, it is important to note that there are differences between neurological disorders, diseases, damage, and dysfunction. 

If you suspect a disorder, disease, or nerve damage, it's important to get a veterinarian to assess and treat the patient medically before attempting osteopathic treatment. Osteopathic treatment may or may not be helpful in these circumstances. It's as important to know when not to treat as it is to know when and how to treat!

Osteopathy and Pain

One of our aims as osteopaths is to help the horse’s nervous system function properly. Pain in an otherwise healthy area (no wounds, fractures, etc.) is a sign that the nervous system is not functioning properly. In other words, an area of the body displaying a pain response where no injury is present is in a dysfunctional state.

Osteopaths work off the theory of the pain gate which is well documented in the scientific community. In short, when proprioception is functioning properly and everything is moving, the pain nerve fibres are inhibited. When movement stops (restriction happens in the body), the pain fibres are no longer inhibited. This is when pain can be perceived.

Ultimately, the goal of osteopathic treatment is to promote proprioception, thus decreasing or eliminating pain. One of the most important techniques to achieve this is the OAB technique. We may also apply traction techniques when considering vertebral disc compressions that cause pain.

When osteopaths articulate the spine, they produce proprioceptive feedback for higher central nervous system structures. This shows the higher structures what is happening in the peripheral system. If we have a case where the "wires are crossed" and dysfunction is present, the body will recognize this and re-adjust itself to a healthy, more efficient state.

When the animal is pain free, it will continue moving. The continued movement ensures the pain does not come back.

Osteopathy and Muscle Problems

Muscle spasms are also a nervous system issue at their core. Muscles do not spasm on their own. They only spasm if the nerves that control them are telling them to contract and relax at the same time. 

Thus, if you correct the nerve function, you correct the muscle spasm. Osteopaths may use soft tissue techniques such as cross fibre inhibition, or they will rely on their assessment and treatment of the spine to create change in the nerves leading to and from a muscle in spasm.

In writing this post, we found that the most important information one needs to treat nerve conditions is a solid foundation in neurophysiology. This is a topic, including the pain gate, we teach in depth with LCAO to prepare osteopaths for clinical training. 

What are your thoughts on nerve related problems and how to treat them? We welcome input from all therapeutic professions and are looking forward to their insightful and different approaches.

For more information on how you can become an Equine Osteopath, click here 

Blog Post written by:
Rachel Pechek
Head Instructor