Muscle or Nerve? Do You Know the Difference?



🧔🏻Hello everyone and Happy #THRIVINTHURSDAYS!


Today we are talking about upper extremity tension, what could be causing it and how to reduce it.

There are many things in the upper extremity that can become tight: fascia, muscle, nerve, artery, vein, lymph and many more. We are really only going to discuss the difference between muscle tension and nerve tension and what to do about it.


Muscle tension is usually local tension that truly feels like something is stretching. For example, the pectoralis major muscle in the front of the shoulder is stretched by bending the elbow to 90 degrees, bringing the elbow up to shoulder height and then bringing the entire arm behind you. If this is only a muscle stretch it will be a local stretching feel in the front of the shoulder but if you are one of the lucky few like myself and are feeling the tension, numbness and tingling in the lower arm and into the fingers you have neural tension as well.


Neural tension in the upper extremity will usually feel like an achy/tension, numbness or possibly tingling down the arm, in the armpit, bicep, forearm and also into the hand and fingers. Neural tension can be due to many things such as a cervical spine injury, thoracic outlet syndrome(TOS), first rib or a scalene dysfunction to name a few. Depending on the actual reason you have upper extremity neural tension the treatment may vary but will likely improve with neural mobilization manually from a Physical Therapist or actively on your own with neural flossing, which is what is shown in the video below.



It is also very possible that you may have both muscle and neural tension. In that case, you would try to mobilize both the muscle and the nerve, with muscle stretching and foam rolling for the muscle and nerve gliding for the nerve. Try to keep in mind that you should not be feeling an increase in neural symptoms while you are stretching the muscle. If you are unable to remove the neural symptoms like numbness and tingling while stretching the muscle, then we would recommend that you find a good Physical Therapist in your area for help.


Good luck and happy stretching or flossing or both!


Your Physical Therapists (AKA Doctors of Movement),

Dr. Snyder & Dr. Mallari

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