Nerve pain – a rough guide on why it happens and how to stop it.

pinched nerves | Arana Hills Physiotherapy

The words ‘nerve pain’ seem to sound of alarm bells for many people, but there is often no reason to be any more concerned by this than other types of pain.

Nerves can get irritated and become painful but  will often settle back down with just a little help and lot of knowledge.

Often nerve pain has many terms or descriptions surrounding it such as sciatica , pinched nerves , radiculopathy and other such terms. Often they make the condition sound even scarier than it should be. For an understanding of terms related to nerve pain check this explanation out here .

The truth about “pinched nerves”

First here are some wise insights into nerves by David Butler. He’s basically a physiotherapy wizard when it comes to nerve pain and has been responsible for much of our improved knowledge in their management.

  1. When you look up at the stars you pinch nerves a bit. We do it all the time. They are designed to be pinched, squeezed, rubbed and wriggled. Most of the time, nerves love a good old workout.
  2. In autopsies, lots of dead people have been shown to have scuffed, squeezed, frayed, obviously pinched nerves, yet in life they may have never complained of pain (Neary and Ochoa 1975).
  3. It’s really hard to pinch and damage a nerve unless you take to the nerve with some pliers or there are some really significant arthritic changes in the spine, or you are the unfortunate victim of a nasty torture.
  4. And even when a nerve is injured (this takes quite a bit to do) it still may not hurt when physically handled or it may wait until you have the flu or are really stressed before it fires.
  5. Most of the time a person thinks they have a ‘pinched nerve’ it is usually a sensitive nerve, a non or minimally damaged nerve that moves quite well.

( Taken from ref:

Why do my nerves get so sensitive ?

Common causes of nerve symptoms can be if the nerve is stretched (such as having your arm pulled in sport), or you nerve is being compressed by other tissues (such as tight surrounding muscles). In both of these scenarios, the nerve should settle back down fairly quickly one the irritant has been removed. What is annoying is that we often notice nerve pain mostly when we’re lying still at night trying to go to sleep!

The most fascinating thing about nerves, is they have their own ‘nervous system’. Unfortunately for us, this means the nerve can become sensitive (or sensitized) and can stay in this hyper-sensitive state for quite a while – but there are ways we can help to calm it down. Nerves also need to move as we move and if they aren’t, this can also cause problems.

What can I do to de-sensitize them ?

Two of the common methods physiotherapist use to address these problems are ‘sliders’ and ‘tensioners’,(David Butler,2007

A ‘tensioner’ is when the nervous system is pulled from both ends (placing it on tension) while a ‘slider’ pulls the nervous system from one end while releasing it at the other (this is also called ‘flossing’ – think of how you floss your teeth)

The idea behind this is to restore your nerve’s movement through its natural pathway and decrease any inflammatory factors. Check out more about this here 


If your physiotherapist gives you an exercise that makes you feel slightly ridiculous – possibly involving anything from ‘my little teapot’ to ‘kicking your head off’ – go with the flow – these are neurodynamic exercises – designed to make your nerve happier.

Here’s the great man David Butler taking nerve flossing to its most dynamic and fun !


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