Nerve gliding is a stretching technique that takes the body through specific ranges of motion to free up injured nerves and improve mobility.
When nerves get injured from things like surgery, trauma, or repetitive motions, they lose their ability to slide within their sheaths during movement. This leads to pain and a loss of mobility, explains Joe Gambino, DPT, CSCS, a New York City-based physical therapist.
Nerve glides help with that. With stretches, you hold each one for a certain amount of time, like 30 seconds or one minute, but nerve glides are more of a pulse than a hold. They’re typically performed in 1 to 3 sets of 10 reps.
If you have any nerve-related symptoms like numbness, tingling, or tightness, report them to a physical therapist, he adds. Placing excess stress on injured nerves (pushing past a point of discomfort) can lead to more pain that calls for X-rays and MRIs.
Whether you’re noticing a lack of mobility or just hoping to stay limber, try these common glides:
Sciatic Nerve Glide: Lie on back with both feet straight out. Lift right leg so knee is bent to 90 degrees, shin parallel to floor, and grasp the back of the knee with both hands. Slowly straighten the leg, bringing it perpendicular (or as close as possible) to the floor, and keep ankle relaxed. When you can’t straighten the leg any more, bend the ankle toward you so the bottom of foot points toward the ceiling. Relax ankle, then lower leg. Repeat on other side.
Ulnar Nerve Glide: Lean head toward left shoulder, hold right arm out to your side, parallel to the floor, and touch your thumb to your pointer finger to make a circle, palms facing up. Bend right arm, bringing hand toward the face, slowing rotating the hand so the palm faces inward and the circle covers right eye. Return to start. Repeat on other side.
Median Nerve Glide: Start with your head turned toward your right shoulder and right arm out to your side, elbow bent, fingers relaxed, right hand touching shoulder, upper arm parallel to the floor. Extend the arm straight out, extending wrist and flattening palm so it faces away from the body. At the same time, rotate head to look toward left shoulder. Return to start. Repeat on other side.