Ok, you've heard it time and time again; stretch after exercise, your hamstrings are too short, that's why you're getting injured/poor performances/bad form/back pain....
So you embark enthusiastically (at least for a week or two) and they're still short? You're clearly not trying hard enough, or stretching for long enough..etc etc etc. You're sure there have at least been some times when you've been more diligent with stretching but its made practically no difference to your flexibility/mobility.
What else might be limiting hamstring flexibility?
If you find stretching, in particular the hamstrings, painful or at the very least uncomfortable you may find neural mobilisation could help. Here's how to find out what may be causing you problems.
Either in front of a mirror or with a friend to observe, lie flat on your back. With the leg kept straight, bring one leg up off the floor and to its full range of motion (ROM) or the point of pain - which ever you reach first.
If you can move the leg to:
- 90 degrees - You're fine! There's nothing limiting your hamstring flexibility. But check out our hypermobility article as you may be hypermobile.
- 80 degrees - This counts as normal ROM, great!
- 70 degrees but experience pain/discomfort - You are beyond the range of limitation caused by neural tension. Your lack of flexibility/pain is more likely to be caused by dysfunction in the lumbosacral (base of the spine) region.
- Between 30 to 70 degrees but experience pain/discomfort - This is the range where the sciatic nerve in under tension. Pain/discomfort/tightness in this range can be caused by neural tension.
- Less than 30 degrees with pain - This is indicative of nerve root problem, seek medical advice or visit an osteopath/physiotherapist as soon as possible.
What is neural mobilisation?
Just as we require appropriate mobility of our musculo-skeletal condition the same is true of the nervous system. The nervous system is a continuous structure and in the same way that trauma and adhesions compromise the mobility of muscles and joints, the peripheral nervous system can be equally affected.
Neural mobilisation is used to increase the mobility of the peripheral nervous system. The aim is to restore normal movement of the neural tissue, using a gentle flossing style technique; releasing the tissue from adhesions, entrapment and facilitating the reduction of inflammation.
Why might I need neural mobilisation?
Ok, so you've identified a restriction in hamstring flexibility somewhere between 30 and 70 degrees of flexion. We've also ascertained that beyond soft tissue flexibility this may be caused by neural tension in the sciatic nerve. So why might neural mobilisation help?
Nerves exposed to adhesions, inflammation or mechanical restriction, such as a disc bulge, become impaired in their function. Depending on the affected nerve and location of restriction, symptoms may range from pain to spasm or even loss of muscle function. Many of us, at some point, have suffered neurological symptoms but these are typically due to temporary compression or entrapments. Often when joint mobility or normal muscle tone has returned the symptoms resolve.
Neural mobilisation can be used in instances of acute symptoms that do not spontaneously resolve; but can be more useful in chronic cases of nerve impairment. Once neural mobility decreases it can be easier for the tissue to become inflamed. Stretching an inflamed nerve, in an effort to improve flexibility, can sometimes actually cause the muscle to become tighter. This prevents further immediate damage to the neural tissue, but perpetuates the cycle of tight muscles, dysfunctional posture and increased risk of chronic damage to the neural tissue. In contrast, neural mobilisation is used to reduce the neural tension without triggering this cycle.
If you have chronically tight hamstrings you may find focusing on neural mobilisation for a few weeks could help break this cycle by improving the mobility of the sciatic nerve.
How do you do neural mobilisation?
In the clinic we combine neural mobilisation techniques with other neuromuscular techniques such as PNF stretching, positional release and MET to maximise the increase in hamstring flexibility and neural mobility. Your therapist can demonstrate how to complete neural mobilisation at home.
This is an example video of how to complete sciatic nerve mobilisation at home:
What other conditions could neural mobilisation help?
Some examples of conditions that commonly include neural tension as part of their pathology are:
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Tennis elbow
- Nerve root disorders
- Spinal pain
- Plantar fasciitis
All of these conditions, as well as hamstring flexibility issues, can be assessed in the clinic and treated using neural mobilisation and neuromuscular techniques. If you have any questions about neural mobilisation, what conditions it can help with or to book an appointment then contact us here.
Need more help improving your hamstring flexibility?
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