Tabitha discusses nerves and their desire to move
Nerve Glides and Pain
We’re all used to exercises designed to strengthen and stretch muscles, and it's easy to see why – they improve balance and cardiovascular fitness while reducing the chance of injury. But have you ever wondered why your physiotherapist or Pilates instructor gives you exercises to “glide and slide your nerves”? Nerves are involved in pain and movement dysfunction, and 'exercising' them can have benefits such as less pain, reduced nerve sensitivity and better movement.
What do nerves do?
When it comes to pain, your nerves are a vital danger alarm system that communicates with the brain about various differences that arise in our body’s tissues. They communicate the type, location and amount of threat to the body. They are very clever and can tell a scratch from a cut, a touch from a push, a hot from a cold. This allows us to recognise, locate and weight the severity of the danger and act accordingly to protect ourselves. The brain receives and coordinates all of this information from the nerves with what your other senses are perceiving and even your mental state, and then decides on the level of pain or discomfort that you should feel.
What do nerves look like?
Nerves are cord-like structures, similar to electrical cords in your home or office. They are surrounded by a sheath through which the nerve glides and slides as your move. Inside the sheath, the nerve is made up of multiple long and thin fibres called neurons that spread throughout your entire body. The neurons have sensors at one end that pick up changes in the tissues in the small area around the end and communicate those changes back up through the body for processing.
It might be tempting to think that our pain is housed in the tissues ( skin, muscles, joints) themselves and that the nerves detect it, but that's not the case – these neurons just register changes in pressure, temperature, and chemical balance in the tissues and relay those changes back up to your brain for processing.
What is nerve pain?
Sometimes part of your body that interacts with the nerves, or the nerves themselves, can malfunction, and this can result in nerve pain. Nerve pain can include tingling, numbness, sharp shooting pain, small regions of more sensitive tissue commonly called “trigger points”, itchiness, a feeling of wetness, pulling and tension.These symptoms can often be worsened by stress, holding the same posture for a long time, or with movements that compress or overstretch the nerve.
The nerves themselves can be damaged or made more sensitive by being cut, compressed, overstretched, aggravated by altered tissue chemistry, or if denied blood flow for an extended period.
Your nerves need to be able to slide through your body unfettered as you move, through any tissues that may be tight or that otherwise restrict their movement. Maintaining the normal ability of the nerves to glide and slide smoothly reduces their sensitivity and encourages renewal of the receptors to happen more rapidly.
How can I help my nerves to move freely, refresh their sensors more regularly and become less sensitive?
One of the ways we can do this is with a nerve sliding exercise, where the nerves or neurones and encouraged to slide within their surrounding sheath and through surrounding tissues. Movement of the nerves in this manner can increase blood flow to the nerve tissues, encourage healing and decreased sensitivity. Happy nerves, less pain.
Many everyday movements and regular muscular stretches will also be stretching your nerves, but there are more specific nerve stretches also. Why not try these common nerve slides for healthier nerves?
Sliding the sciatic nerve of the leg
Repeat 5 x each side. You might feel pulling, tingling, numbness, heat, cold, wetness, itchiness anywhere along the back, neck and the back of the outstretched leg into the foot. Do not hold the nerve on stretch, but rather continue to slide it up and down throughout, keeping it moving.
Sliding the upper limb nerves
Here is another example of a nerve slider exercise for the nerves of the neck and arm. Gently flex and relax the wrist 5 x each side, continuously and gently moving, and you might feel pulling, tingling or any of the aforementioned nerve sensations between the neck down the arm into the hand.
It's clear that the nerves in your body can cause problems, and we have some ways to identify when this is occurring and then treat them to prevent and relieve symptoms.
Sliding your nerves is a great and easy way to start. Add these stretches to your usual stretch or exercise routine.