Nerve compression can cause a variety of discomforts, including tingling, numbness, a burning sensation or radiating pain. The nerves can be entrapped by muscles, bones or fluid. Clients with entrapped nerves can benefit greatly from massage therapy. Active release techniques to alleviate tension in the muscles causing the nerve impingement can bring welcome relief for nerve discomfort. If the nerve entrapment is caused by pressure from excess fluid rather than muscle tension, then Manual Lymphatic Drainage is the perfect thing. However, in addition to our session time, I always try to give my clients something they can do at home to help themselves. For basic nerve issues, I often suggest trying a nerve floss.
Sometimes called a nerve glide, this technique involves mobilizing the nerve. By slowly and gently gliding the nerve, it is possible to restore stretch and allow the nerve to move freely. This often decreases inflammation and painful sensations. It is done with a back and forth movement of the nerve along its pathway, much like the movement of dental floss in between teeth. The nerve is tensioned first in one direction and then the other. Once this movement can be comfortably done, you can also stretch both “ends” of the nerve into maximum stretch by stretching into opposite directions at the same time – but it’s best to get comfortable with the flossing motion first.
Clients report very positive results, and I enjoy doing nerve glides on myself. However, there should always be a word of caution with procedures done at home without the supervision of a therapist! So here goes:
CAUTION: These movements should always be done GENTLY and SLOWLY – there should be no jerky or aggressive movements. Once or twice a day, for 5-10 repetitions, is plenty. It is always advisable to start with the technique for only 1-2 repetitions at a time, to make sure it doesn’t cause further flare-ups of the inflamed nerve. There can be a slight feeling of discomfort associated with this technique, but it is normally just experienced as a mildly pleasurable pulling sensation. It should not cause pain, so if there is pain involved, STOP immediately. Nerve flossing should NOT be done with active inflammatory conditions, acute neurological conditions such as Complex Regional Pain Syndrome, or acute demyelinating diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis. When in doubt, always consult with your health practitioner.
The most common nerve complaint in my practice is sciatic nerve pain. There are two doctors, Dr. Brian Abelson and Dr. Evangelos Mylonas, who form “Kinetic Health”, who have some of my favorite nerve flossing videos available online. Here are two I find very helpful for sciatic nerve impingement, as well as the peroneal nerve further down the leg.
Here is another I like from “The London Chiro” Owain Evans, which is quick and to the point for those who don’t need the full explanation or anatomy lesson.
MEDIAN, RADIAL, ULNAR NERVES:
Dr. Jo is another Physical Therapist with informative, easy to follow videos online. Here is her all-in-one video on the median, radial and ulnar nerves and how to floss them. She has excellent individual ones, as well – you can visit her website for more.
If you like these guys from above, here are Kinetic Health’s videos on the radial and ulnar nerves.
I am always looking for ways to empower my clients to take charge of their own bodies and healing. Barring serious conditions, nerve flossing can be an easy, inexpensive tool to use at home as a complement to other therapies.