BY CHRISTY MADER BSC. RMT AND AVID CLIMBER.
Do you ever get tingling or numbness in your hands and wonder why? There are a myriad of things that can cause your hands to go numb or tingle, but I’ll let you go down the Dr. Google rabbit hole if you want a comprehensive list. Sometimes it can be due to neural tension What is neural tension you ask? Let’s be realistic, you probably didn’t ask, but for the keeners reading this, I’ll explain. Think of all the nerves in your body as a spider web. If you pull on a single strand, it will pull on the rest of the spider web. Neural or nerve tension is the result of nerves, like the web strand, being pulled on from somewhere in the body. It’s my job to figure out where those pulls come from, which leads to nerve tension tests.
I have been experimenting with nerve tension tests (median, ulnar, and radial) and finger injuries in climbers as of late. I have found that for people who have positive nerve tension tests and finger injuries, if you decrease nerve tension in session, there is a strong correlation to improved grip strength (measured with a dynamometer before and after a treatment). Improvements range from 5% to as high as 45% in one session, which is exciting! When neural tension is involved, finger injuries will often heal more quickly once the neural tension tests are less positive (centralizing) or are completely negative.
Nerve glides or nerve tension tests are a helpful way to determine if there is neurological involvement for a person’s pain or weakness. It is common for me to give nerve glides to people who have forearm, wrist, elbow, shoulder, or neck pain along with nerve sensation in their arms or hands. Here is my disclaimer: I would highly recommend seeing a professional to rule out conditions that nerve glides might irritate or make worse, such as disc herniation or a facet irritation in the neck.
I compare nerves to a brake line on your car — pulling out all the analogies in this post. You have the brake cable, (which is like a sheath for the nerve), your brake fluid, and the brake line (aka the nerve). When you try out nerve glides, the intent behind the movement is a pumping or gliding motion. A lot of people think that nerve glides are a stretch, but stretching can irritate an already taught nerve and make your symptoms worse. If you try these nerve glides, you want to keep the back and forth motion smooth and avoid stopping and stretching at the end range. You also only want to go to the point where you begin to slightly feel the nerve sensation. Less is more with nerves and the nervous system. I usually recommend five to ten reps a few times a day. And if you ever feel more irritated after doing them, follow up with a professional; don’t overextend while performing nerve glides.
There are two types of nerve glides: tensioners and sliders. Check out the video below for an example of a median, ulnar, and radial nerve glide, also called tensioners.
If a person finds that tensioners elicit too much sensation, sliders are a much more gentle way to encourage the nerve to slide through its sheath to reduce neural tension. Here is the video for nerve sliders.
If you find that you have a hard time keeping your fingers pointed to the ground on median nerve tensioners, try them against the wall as shown here.