Our nervous system is a very unique and special system that allows us as humans to do everything possible during the day, including breathing and keeping our ticker ticking. The nervous system of the average adult extends over 37 miles with an innumerable measure of receptors that receive, transmit and receive information so our brain knows what's going on in our body. Fascinating right???...did you also know that our nerves can stretch too? About 6% of its resting length!!
Now let's get down to the nitty gritty of what I mean about flossing and our nerves...yes our nerves need flossing too. Our nerves are covered by a sheath or covering that allows them to glide and move freely without getting hung up and causing pain. When we have some level of impingement such as in our spine with a herniated disc or arthritic changes or even when we have some muscle tightness that closed down on the space our nerve runs through (i.e., carpal tunnel syndrome). we will have some level of symptoms. This can include numbness, tingling, burning, searing, electrical type feelings that can be either transient (come and go) or can be something that is continuous.
The ability of your nerves to glide as you go about your day is very important to ensure that you do not have any of the above limiting you from your activities. Gliding or flossing of your nerves is the action of your nerve moving through its covering without restriction where one end shortens and the other lengthens while stretching is the action of your nerve lengthening over both ends. In some instances where there is injury in the region such as a severe bruise or immobility or surgery, you can develop restrictions between the covering of the nerve and the nerve itself resulting in an early stretch or onset of symptoms of tingling or pain.
The nerves in our neck supply all of the sensation and function to our arms all the way to the tips of our fingers. There are multiple points throughout that extend from our neck, shoulder, elbow, and hand that can result in compression in some point along the way. Compression, impingement, or irritation of the nerve can result as I said above from injury to the area, irritation, inflammation, or even scar tissue from surgery to the area, resulting in reduced ability for your nerves to glide and move appropriately.
In order to address this, you want to first seek out your favorite and best Physical Therapist in your area to determine if this is what you are currently going through. From there you can be guided in the best way to alleviate your pain (if any) and symptoms. One of the techniques that can be used both in the clinic and at home is called nerve flossing. This technique allows the person to move their nerves along its length by shortening the nerve on one end (tilting your head to the right) and lengthening it on the other (straightening your elbow). By doing this you will encourage the nerve to move appropriately while not allowing it to get "stuck". If, at any point, you feel like you get stuck or feel symptoms throughout the motion you would stop and then repeat the motion in a shorter range until you have reduced symptoms. When your symptoms reduce then you could go further into the range.
Once you are able to glide your nerves appropriately then you can start working at improving their ability to tolerate stretch or length. As I mentioned above, our nerves stretch to about 6% of their resting length. We should be able to do so without any reproduction of pain or symptoms of burning or tingling. If we do experience something like this, there may be a restriction or may have been previous injury to the nerve making in hypersensitive to stretch. We want to be able to regain this ability by gradually tensioning it to tolerance without symptoms, regaining length as we go. Again, when performing this type of technique, you want to have minimal to no symptoms. If you overdo any type of nerve flossing/gliding or stretching you will piss it off and you will be in more pain than you were before. Not only will you be in more pain but it will take some more time for it to calm down as nerves take a little longer than other tissues like muscle and tendon to settle. This is why it is imperative you are working with a Doctor of Physical Therapy who can guide you through this appropriately and gradually back to normal.
For examples of the types of techniques we use to help patients and clients improve their nerve mobility and nerve related pain in the clinic please refer to the videos below. If you have any questions please feel free to reach out to us and we will get back to you ASAP by emailing email@example.com or call 516-387-4669 at any time.
Radial Nerve Gliding/Flossing
Medial Nerve Gliding/Flossing
Ulnar Nerve Gliding/Flossing