What are you actually stretching when you stretch? It sounds like an odd question, but it might not just be your muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Is it your fascia? Unlikely. How about your tendons? Once again unlikely . or is it your nerves? Hmm…
We don’t usually think of the nerves of our bodies when we are stretching. We think that we are stretching our quads, or hamstrings, or pecs but we never think that when we find that sharp pain at the end of our range of motion we may be yanking on our nerves. The bigs ones and most likely unknown targets are the femoral nerve in the front of the thigh and sciatic nerve in the back of the thigh. Most times, people don’t even know that these nerves can be tight or sensitive, and they do not know they are pulling them.
When we pull on nerves they tend to get pissed off. So people sit around and stretch their “hamstrings” and what happens? Their “hamstrings” get tighter! How is this possible? If stretching worked, wouldn’t it have worked already? How can you just have chronically tight hamstrings, or quads but no other muscles get chronically tight? We use our arms all the time, why are our biceps, triceps, and deltoids not debilitatingly tight?
The answer lies in the ever complicated, and sensitive nervous system. When a nerve is compressed or sensitive to length changes, it needs to be coaxed into relaxing, not beaten into submission. So if you have been stretching for ages and not getting any changes, maybe it’s time to do something different. Below you will see an example of a nerve “stretch” called a slide or glide that a licensed physical therapist may prescribe you if you are suffering from neural tension. As always, consult your physician and/or physical therapist before attempting any of these maneuvers to see if you actually need them, they can result in some discomfort if you do not need them!