Did you know that similar to the benefits of stretching your muscles, stretching and lengthening your nerves also have their benefits? In fact, if your nerves do not have the flexibility level that your muscles and joints do then you may experience pain because the muscle stretch is longer than your nerves are capable of. However, nerves do not like to be stretched in the same ways as our muscles. Nerve exercises or stretches are often referred to as nerve glides or nerve flossing. Nerves don’t like to be stretched for more than 8 seconds at a time, so the terminology of gliding and flossing reflects the fluidity of the stretching and the fact that these stretchings involve repeated movement.
How do you know if you are feeling a tight muscle or a tight nerve?
When you stretching and you feel some pain, you can tell if it is a nerve acting up by pointing and flexing your toes. If the pain goes away when you point your toe then it is nerve pain because pointing the toe is reducing the stretch. If you still feel the stretch when you point your toe, then it is likely a muscle stretch you are feeling.
Another test is by rolling your chin to chest and then moving your head to a position behind you. This is another way of constricting and then relaxing your nerve. The constricted state is head forward and the relaxed state is head back. If you feel the tightness in your nerve than it will feel strong in the chin to chest position and then relieved when you look back and bend your head and upper body back.
What is the most relaxed state for your nerves?
It is important to keep the most relaxed state for your nerves in mind because it will be something that you can fall back on if stretching your nerves feels too intense or if you simply need to feel relief from your pain throughout the day or night when you cannot sleep.
In these pictures, I demonstrate how to set yourself up in the most relaxed position.
If you are dealing with sciatic pain radiating down a leg, the leg which has the pain should be bent 90 degree, knee facing out toward your side body. Toe points. Knee should be in line with your hip to the extend that you can get it there.
Lie down, put a pillow under your middle/upper back (Thoracic Spine area). Put your head back, touching the floor.
How do you stretch your nerves?
Stretching your nerves uses the techniques of constricting and relaxing the nerves. There are many variations of nerve flossing or gliding and which one is right for you is dependent on how much nerve pain you are experiencing and what you can tolerate at each point in your rehabilitation. The best way to start is by doing the exercises which are least likely to feel painful and then progressing as you feel less pain. If the pain does not subside by about the 5th repetition, than it is too intense for you at the stage at which you are. Take it back a notch.
What are some nerve glide and flossing exercises/stretches?
Starting from easier, less intense stretches to more intense ones, here are some examples.
On the ground, sit up, legs out in front, arms behind your back, fingers facing the wall behind you.
Point your toes and curl your upper body. Chin to chest, tuck your belly button in, roll vertebrae down.
Flex your toes, look back, baby back bend, extending your thoracic spine back, opening up the chest.
Do these motions fluidly for 20 repetitions, holding each position for no more than 8 seconds.
On the ground, lie down on your back. Knees up at a 45 degree angle, extend the leg with radiating pain up at about a 45-90 degree angle depending on your flexibility level. Point and flex your toe for 20 repetitions.
Sitting on a chair, lift the leg with pain to a 90-degree angle, flex your toes while simultaneously looking back, baby backbend from the thoracic spine. Place leg back down, the spine comes back to neutral. Repeat 20 times.
Remember that if the pain does not start to ease after about 5 reps then your nerves are too aggravated and that is probably too intense of a stretch for where you are at today. Dial it back to an easier exercise or simply start by lying in the nerve relaxed position for 15-20 minutes.
As always, consult your doctor before starting any new exercise program. Consult a nerve education therapist for more details on nerve flossing.