Our bodies can feel tight or restricted for many different reasons. While conventional thought may suggest that if something is tight or stiff, it should be stretched out, that isn’t always the case. When we experience discomfort or tension within our bodies, often, our initial impulse is to stretch to find some relief. However, there are some instances when stretching is not necessarily the best course of action to take and can even aggravate the structures involved.
One example of a part of our body that doesn’t respond well to stretching is our nervous system.
How the Nervous System Works
The nervous system is a complex network of nerve cells, creating a highway with a variety of routes that impact all the structures it encounters along the way. Our body is able to move and function by two-way messages that are carried along these nerves. To envision the structure of nerves, imagine our nerve cells as inflexible electrical “wires” traveling in an “insulating” sheath known as myelin. Information is constantly traveling along nerve cells from the brain to muscles to enable them to contract. Additionally, information from the body is going back to the brain so that the brain can make sense of what is happening in the body and adjust outgoing messages as needed.
Our nerves can become compromised and create a pain response when their surrounding environment changes negatively. For example, when the muscles surrounding the nerve become tight from poor posture, our nerve becomes restricted. This has an impact on the neurodynamics of the system.
“Neurodynamics refers to the communication between different parts of the nervous system and to the nervous systems relationship to the musculoskeletal system. It has been shown that the nerves move independently from other tissues” (Physiopedia / Lohkamp M., Herrington L. Small K. Tidy’s physiotherapy. London Elsevier 2013)
Why Stretching Won’t Help Your Nervous System
A healthy nerve cell, the “wire,” should be able to glide and slide freely back and forth in the myelin sheath, the “insulation.” When compressed or compromised, the myelin can become sticky and limit the ability of the nerve cells to glide back and forth. Because our nerves don’t contain the same elastic properties of muscles, stretching alone would not remedy the problem, and in some cases, can exacerbate the symptoms.
To restore a healthy relationship and function of the nervous system, physical therapists may choose movements and manual techniques that improve the neurodynamics of the body. This treatment can involve movements that encourage the nerve cell’s ability to move in the sheath, called nerve gliding or flossing. Restoring nervous system function might also require you to address musculoskeletal imbalances that are aggravating the nerve, which can be accomplished through a variety of manual techniques such as joint mobilizations or trigger point dry needling.
Physical therapists are body experts qualified to figure out what’s wrong and determine the best way to fix it. Your physical therapist can assess your nervous system issues and find the most appropriate strategies for getting your health back on track. Reach out to SetPT today to get make sure your nervous system is in working order!