In the arm, we have 3 major nerves: the median nerve, ulnar nerve and radial nerve. When these nerves are irritated, they can produce symptoms like numbing, tingling and weakness all the way down into the fingers. So, what is flossing and how does it help?
Nerve flossing is a type of gentle exercise that stretches irritated nerves. If you think of the nerve being a cooked spaghetti noodle inside of a straw, ideally, we want the noodle to slide easily along in the straw. But, if there is too much tension on one side, or if there is a bend or dent in the straw, it can damage the noodle.
When we use flossing exercises, we can gently reintroduce the proper movement of the nerve, and help reduce symptoms. When using flossing exercises, pay attention to the symptoms you experience, and see if they either get less intense and/or slowly start to work backwards up the arm. Both of these are good signs that the flossing is working.
Image retrieved from Nerves of the Arm, myhealth.alberta.ca
Median Nerve Flossing Exercise
Typically, symptoms are felt in the first 3 fingers when the median nerve is impacted, as well as the thumb side of the arm (aka the radial side).
Start with your hand palm up, like you are holding a tray. Then slowly straighten the arm out, keeping the wrist extended.
If you would like to add more of a sliding action to the nerve, tilt your head toward the same shoulder as you extend the arm. Repeat up to 10 times a day, and don’t worry increased symptoms are normal while you are doing the movements.
Ulnar Nerve Flossing Exercise
The ulnar nerve will produce symptoms on the pinky side of the arm and the last 2 fingers.
Starting with the arm straight, palm down, thumb and index finger touching lightly. Keeping your arm straight out at 90 degrees, bend the elbow and try to circle your eye with your fingers. You don’t have to make it all the way, just until you feel a slight symptom increase and/or a stretch.
Radial Nerve Flossing Exercise
For the radial nerve, you will tend to feel symptoms that focus on the back of the hand and forearm.
This nerve tension starts with your hand down at your side, wrist straight and palm facing behind you. Next, all you have to do is flex the wrist, facing the palm to the ceiling. This is called the waiter’s tip position.
Watch Dr. Samantha de Castro Demonstrate these Flossing Exercises
For all of these flossing exercises, try to ensure you have your shoulder at neutral, not up next to your ears. Remember to breathe!