What is Nerve Flossing (And How it Can Help Your Performance)

Published On - 17 February, 2021By Alina Butunoi

Most of us don’t really pay much attention to our nerves until there’s an injury or other underlying issue that may appear with our nervous system. Yet these unique microscopic elements are one of the most important and unseen parts of our bodies.

One useful way to think of the nervous system is not so much as a series of separate elements, but as one giant nerve that’s actually split into distinct parts, much like a single spiderweb is made up of multiple interconnected strands.

When our nerves are functioning at maximum capacity they allow us to perform incredible physical feats and react in a split second. Yet when nerves experience issues, they can limit even simple tasks and actions. One of the most common issues that many people run into is nerve tightness. This is often caused when the brain believes that a specific movement or muscle contraction is going to cause injury. Your brain than puts the brakes on any more activity, tightening your nerves to prevent more damage. Often this nerve tightness continues for extensive periods of time, even if there isn’t actually any risk of damage at all.

The reason for this is that your nervous system’s primary focus is on survival, not performance. In fact, your brain functions much like an alarm system. If it feels like something isn’t safe and is going to harm your body, it sends out an alarm signal and shuts down the threat area to protect you. Your brain doesn’t know that something may actually be a minor issue, all it knows is to put the brakes on by tightening the nerves in your body to prevent them from firing.

The result of this sudden stoppage is that people often feel tightness or a general sense of weakness. They often mistakenly believe this is related to muscles and that they can “stretch it out” through yoga, massage or rolling.

In fact, these solutions often have little or no impact because the issue isn’t with your muscles, it’s with the nerves themselves. Grinding or stretching tissue that already feels threatened isn’t going to do anything. In fact, it might actually make it worse.

Nerve flossing is a technique to release this tension and carefully move a nerve within the protective insulation or “sheath” that surrounds it. This in turn sends a signal directly to your brain, making it clear that there isn’t actually any danger and that the movement or activity you’re about to do isn’t going to cause any harm.

It’s important to note, however, that unlike our muscles, nerves don’t actually like to stretch. Think of it this way: rubber bands can stretch (like our muscles do), but wires are more brittle because they’re designed to transmit information. Your nerves function in exactly the same thing. Try to stretch a wire too much and it might snap or stop transmitting information. The solution instead is to carefully move the wire into a better position so it passes along a stronger and more accurate signal.

How Nerve Flossing Works

During nerve flossing (sometimes known as “nerve glide”), it’s all about gently reintroducing movement to tightened nerves so that they once again transmit positive signals to your brain indicating that it’s okay to start moving again. This in turn allows you to stretch farther, get stronger, and feel looser.

The key here is to start slowly and build up tolerance. This is typically done using short exercises 2-3 times a day, with just a few basic reps, often involving stretching, minimal strength training and balance work. It’s important to choose a custom program that specifically targets the areas where nerve tightening is most evident (your trained movement coach can help assess this).

During nerve flossing, it’s also important to remember to:

  • Perform actively and not passively
  • Constantly assess and reassess your body
  • Keep the tension low (3-10 reps maximum)
  • Alter the sequence as needed to create tension
  • Perform using different speeds and movements
  • Less is more, it’s about slow and steady movement

As you progress through each nerve flossing sequence, you should keep two things in mind: always hit the targeted area with each drill and never act if there’s any kind of intense pain. The goal here is to provide the brain with new information about a specific part of the body, not to cause your body discomfort.

Using the nerve flossing technique with a trained practitioner can be incredibly beneficial way to improve physical performance, relieve pain and recover from injuries.

If you have any questions about nerve flossing, I’d love to hear from you. Reach out and let me know how I can help you get the most out of your nervous system. Book your appointment today.

About Author

Alina Butunoi

Alina Butunoi is one of Ottawa’s most respected massage therapists and exercise therapy coaches. A previous nominee for the Ottawa 40 Under 40 business leaders, she is also a certified Movement Neurology Specialist with Z-Health, a cutting-edge neuro-exercise system that helps improve health, alleviate pain and maximize athletic performance.

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