Nerves have feelings too.
I've come across a few cases of upper limb referred nerve pain and symptoms in the clinic this week, and it got me thinking about nerves in general. Our nervous system is a remarkable structure, but when it becomes sensitised or sensitive, it can reap havoc on the sufferer. Personally, I've suffered from ulnar nerve issues over the last few months, with pins and needles into my pinkie and 4th finger at night. Now, some of this must have to do with sleeping position, but some of it is also sensitisation of the nerve somewhere along it's course.
When we move, stretch and maintain static postures, we are forever moving, stretching and tensioning our nerves. When we go to stretch our hamstrings, we are also stretching our sciatic nerve, our tibial nerve, our sural nerve etc. They are not immune to movement and are just as likely as any other structure to become painful.
So what are the symptoms of nerve irritation? Every nerve has a characteristic pattern of skin that it supplies and a group of muscles that it innervates. With irritation of the nerve, we will get a characteristic pattern of decreased sensation or pins and needles in the distribution of the nerve and potentially some muscle weakness of the nerve's supplied muscles.
How does a nerve get sensitive? Well, they're obviously easily offended. They have 'feelings' and these feelings can become negative and irritated with certain postures. When we slouch forward for long periods of time and feel 'tight' muscles, are we really just tensioning our nerves which then promote muscle tightness? When our hamstrings are 'tight', are they really just protecting a tight sciatic nerve that wants to do anything but be put on stretch? And in areas where we have less muscle protection to protect our nerve, do we then obtain neural or nerve symptoms more easily here? All good questions and all worth thinking about when we think about muscle 'tightness.'
Back to our ulnar nerve for a moment. I commonly see this issue in people who sleep on their stomache with their head turned to one side and their arm under their head (such as myself). It can also be found in people who lean on the elbow excessively (as it's got little protection in this area), and also in people who spend lots of time with their elbow bent (the nerve is statically stretched a lot in this position). It can get compressed through it's passage in the neck (from a disc bulge or decreased intervertebral foramen size), or through it's passage through the scalene muscles and pectorals minor. Any of these areas would be worth treating.
Recently, neurodynamic stretches have proven popular to decrease neural sensitivity. These involve certain postural positions and stretches which help to move the nerve through the nerve sheath, allowing it to settle it's irritability.
If you're a little nervous that your nerves are sensitive types, the best bet is to cease offending them through some structured nerve gliding techniques. For an assessment of your neurodynamics, give the clinic a call on 52555755.