Everyone has heard the phrase ‘no pain, no gain. While this may be relevant in some situations, like when your when training hard with a specific goal in mind, it other situations it is not so good. Here is a little insight about nerves and how what you think may be an injury like a hamstring strain or tennis elbow can be caused by a unhappy nerves.
What do nerves do?
Nerves are what keep our body moving and alive. We have nerves everywhere along the body supplying your skin for touch and your muscles to tell us to move. They cross over many joints and need to move, glide, stretch and withstand compression as your body moves. In most cases this is fine and nerves move, slide and get compressed pain free. However they can get injured and sensitive to movement. This can happen when the connective tissue on a nerve becomes damaged by a quick stretch or another violent movement. This will cause some inflammation around the nerve and the nerve will have to repair itself, resulting in some scar tissue, which may not move and glide as freely as before. When nerves become sensitive to stress, such as inflammation or damage, then blood flow to the nerve can be restricted. In this case normal movements that were previously fine can now cause pain, tingling or numbness and this is call adverse neural tension.
So what about my tight hamstring?
So to recap, if you have moved in a way that has hurt your nerve, then a minor amount of damage has been caused, which will cause a small amount of inflammation and restrict blood supply and make the nerve less healthy and sensitive. The provocative movement you have just done will tell the brain that this movement is to be avoided as it will cause pain. It also makes it more likely that your brain will give you a stronger pain signal to stop you from moving it again.This can cause a painful cycle as next time you move, the nerve will be more sensitive and it will result in more pain. This can lead to muscle tightness and injury.
So if we take your hamstring as example. You’ve overstretched it or it has been put in a position which the nerve did not like. The nerve is now sensitive and the brain sends a a signal to the muscle to restrict movement as too much movement will hurt it. The muscle then ‘tightens’ in order to protect the movement. If you then start to stretch your hamstring because you think it is tight you may cause a small amount of irritation to the already irritated nerve which will cause discomfort, your muscles will tighten further to protect themselves, you stretch ……. and you get the idea. A cycle can easily occur with this ‘tight’ muscle become even tighter by stretching it further.
Aggressive stretching is probably not the best solution to solve this problem but there are other ways and exercises that can be done to move and help free up the nerve itself to make it a happier more healthy nerve.
If your nervous system feels under threat, your body will inhibit or decrease a movement in the direction that is causing the problem by tightening and protecting the surrounding tissues. Muscle tension is controlled by the Central Nervous System so muscles are usually tight for a reason. So if you are feeling ‘tight’ and are stretching like crazy with little or no effect or think that you have strained a muscle but are not sure how, then the best advice is to go to a qualified therapist and get it checked out. Your therapist should get a full history of your pain, perform some tests and get you to do some movements to diagnose the problem.
So this saying -‘If in doubt then it checked out’ may be better than this saying ‘No pain, no gain’.