Neural mobility is an important aspect of flexibility, and may be what’s holding you back from improving your flexibility. Often that feeling of “tightness” or muscle tension we feel can actually be related to tension in our nerves (Neural Tension) rather than muscles.
The nerves in our body or neural tissues are fixed at 5 points: the head, the fingertips and the tips of the toes. The rest of the nervous tissue is mobile and has to “give” to allow movement.
Ever feel like you are continuously stretching without getting more flexible? If neural tension is the problem then you may actually be making it worse by stretching as our nerves are designed to glide rather than stretch. Muscle stretches can sometimes be done incorrectly, in a way that involves a neural stretch. This can cause an irritation of the nerve, which, instead of minimising pain, can aggravate the problem. Nerves are incredibly sensitive structures and once irritated they can be difficult to settle down, as anyone who has ever suffered from “sciatica”, or leg pain related to the back, will understand.
So what causes neural tension? It may be as simple as muscle spasm, tightness or joint swelling affected the neural tissues, or it may be something more serious such as a disc protrusion or foraminal stenosis. Any of these can cause the nerve to lose its “give” and movement can become limited.
If you think you are suffering from neural tension or nerve related pain, it is important to consult your physiotherapist. There are certain techniques and exercises that can be given to relieve neural tension but these can only be given once a specific diagnosis is made. Remember, stretching a nerve can easily aggravate it so be sure to see your physio before trying any exercises you may have seen elsewhere!