We floss our teeth to remove food particles and prevent plaque buildup from forming between the teeth and gums. Similarly, our nerves will sometimes form scar tissue that needs to be flossed. Nerve flossing stretches the tissues to allow proper functioning and movement. We will discuss the science behind this technique and nerve flossing exercises that can be done on individual nerve clusters.
About Nerve Entrapment
Our nerves transmit messages to and from our brain throughout our body, enabling us to function properly. Soft tissue encloses these nerves to protect them from damage. As we move, the nerves stretch tightly and sometimes become entangled within the tissue. This is referred to as nerve entrapment, also known as a pinched nerve.
Nerve entrapment may occur with tissue inflammation, poor posture, compression from an injury, or direct trauma to the nerve through repetitive motions. Symptoms of nerve entrapment include numbness, pain, and muscle weakness. Pain may intensify with movement.
What Is Nerve Flossing?
Nerve flossing is a specialized technique to treat the nerves that have become entangled within the soft tissue. It releases the tension on a nerve by pulling and stretching one end of the nerve while keeping the other end in a relaxed state. When flossing the nerves, the muscles of the affected area immediately contract to form a protective shield around the nerve. The muscles appear stiff and tight, allowing one to decipher the condition of the nerve. Without treatment, the tension of the nerve can lead to complications of the joints, muscles, and tissue connected throughout the body.
The exercises for proper nerve flossing complement a proper treatment plan. We will cover common nerve flossing exercises that can be done with the guidance of a certified therapist or at home with proper training.
Nerve Flossing for Arms and Legs
When the nerves in our arms and legs become entrapped, it may lead to severe pain and serious inflammation. Nerve flossing exercises are divided into three parts for the arm.
1. Ulnar Nerve
Ulnar nerve flossing starts by touching the tip of the thumb with the index finger; the rest of the fingers, on both hands, should be straight. Place the hands near the eyes with palms facing the ceiling. Leading with your pinky, bring the outstretched fingers toward the face and under the chin. The index and thumb connection should remain around the eyes.
2. Median Nerve
For flossing of the median nerve, place one hand out to the side at a 90-degree angle to the head. Keeping the palm facing the ceiling and fingers straight, bend the hand at the wrist up and down, maintaining the angle.
3. Radial Nerve
To floss the radial nerve, repeat the median nerve exercise with the palm facing down.
4. Leg Nerve Flossing
Nerve flossing on the legs sees you sitting in a low chair with the affected leg stretched out straight. With the toes pointing to the ceiling, pull leg back towards the body and stretch it out again. Repeat 10 to 12 times, three to five times daily.
Nerve Flossing for Shoulder
You can perform this exercise sitting down or standing. Keeping your hands down by your thighs with palms out, bend the head toward the opposite affected shoulder. Return to a normal position, and then bend towards the affected shoulder. The goal is to touch the shoulder with the ear.
Sciatic Nerve Flossing
For flossing of the sciatic nerve, sit straight in a low chair with legs resting. Pull the affected leg towards the body at no more than a 90-degree angle, with the foot pointed upward. Move the foot towards the body and back five to six times with the body moving back at an angle of 45 degrees to the shoulder. Repeat in three to four sets at least three times each day.
Nerve Flossing for Piriformis
To help with hip pain from trauma to the piriformis muscle, flossing takes place by sitting in a chair with feet planted flat on the floor. Raise leg at a 90-degree angle and place the chin on the chest. Hold for two to three seconds. Repeat 15 to 20 times, three times each day.
Peroneal Nerve Flossing
Peroneal nerve flossing targets this part of the sciatic nerve found below the knee. Sit in a low chair to stretch the leg vertical to the body. Move the foot with the head positioned back slightly. Do this three times a day.
Femoral Nerve Flossing
As a large nerve, the femoral nerve flossing comprises two separate exercises. For the first exercise, lie on the floor face down and slowly push the upper body up with head toward the ceiling. Roll the head toward the body and lift again, this time raising one leg up. Lower the leg as you tuck your head toward your chest. Raise the leg close to the hip with head down. Raise the head again as you move the leg to starting position. Repeat all steps 15 to 20 times.
The second flossing exercise will have you sit on the floor on your knees, close to a wall. Position yourself with the affected leg away from the wall. Move the leg closest to the wall forward until the foot is flat on the floor. Place the hand of the same side on the wall and move to place weight on placed leg. Raise the opposite hand and bend toward the wall to stretch the muscles and ligaments. You can also move the head back while bending for more of a stretch.
Nerve flossing is exactly as it sounds: flossing your nerves. Just as we use dental floss to remove trapped food, we floss our nerves to free them from trapped tissue. Our nerves can become tangled from an injury, muscle strain, or any compression of the nerve as it moves. It is important to treat the nerve as much as the pain as nerve entrapment can lead to complications affecting the muscles, joints, and nerves throughout the body. The best news is that most cases of nerve entrapment can be treated at home with nerve flossing techniques and exercises.
McCahon, J., “Sciatic Nerve Flossing Exercise,” Live Strong, August 16, 2013; http://www.livestrong.com/article/287430-sciatic-nerve-flossing-exercise/, last accessed April 5, 2017.
“Trapped Nerve,” The Spinal Foundation; http://www.spinal-foundation.org/conditions/trapped-nerve, last accessed April 5, 2017.