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What a Nerve!

When you start watching cadaver dissection videos, you learn some surprising things. One of the things you learn is that people are, more often than not, moved to revulsion by the fact that you watch cadaver dissection videos. But aside from that, you learn things about the body that you never would have known from the two dimensional pictures in a basic anatomy textbook.

For me, a huge revelation has been the nervous system, the fascinating tangle of fibers that run through the human body and telegraph messages to and from the brain. In my mind, all nerves were small, thin strands that were barely perceivable to the naked eye – but the reality is completely different. Watching Gil Hedley move the piriformis (one of the external rotator muscles located in your butt) to reveal the sciatic nerve beneath, I literally gasped. The nerve was as thick as your pinkie finger, and there was nothing delicate about it. I saw it again a few weeks ago at the Bodies exhibit in Las Vegas (and tried to have a bonding moment with the lab-coated woman standing nearby, who refused to be drawn into my excitement about the size of the sciatic nerve and merely replied, “yes, sometimes nerves are large.”). For those of you who have suffered some form of sciatica, in which the nerve has been impinged upon by an inflamed muscle fiber, and thus find it intolerable to sit or stand or walk, well, no wonder: that nerve is huge, and it’s been hurt.

PT extraordinare Sean Hampton told us in YTU training a year ago that it’s not just the muscles that need stretching, the nerves need it too. It makes total sense: the tissues of the body do not exist in distinct, separate vacuums from each other, but affect and impact each other directly. Constant, passive contraction in a muscle leads to adaptive shortening, and it only follows that the nerves running through that area would also have shortened and suffered as a result.

One of my favorite stretches that I do almost daily is to combat a new environmental stress that I never had to deal with in New York: driving! All that gripping of the steering wheel is creating tension in my forearms and hands. Yuck. Here’s what I do now (of course, courtesy of Yoga Tune Up®):


If you want to try this, make sure your scapula stays down – don’t let it hike up into your ear. For bonus points, attempt to drag your hand along the wall without actually moving – you’ll engage the forearm flexors, anterior deltoid, and pecs for a deeper stretch. You will probably feel this as a tingling in your palms, inner elbows, and/or across the chest. It’s a delicious awakening for the brachial plexus (the nerves that run from your neck down into your chest and arms).


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Reader Comments (3)

Oh that sciatic nerve is REALLY big. You can actually compare it to the size of your index finger! Sitting on your rump for hours on end also literally dehydrates the tissues of your bum...and the big nerves passing through it. It's like sitting on a gigantic sponge that has been filled with a thick gel...it will take hours for the gel to seep out, but once it does, you are left with compressed, dried sponge. That's your butt after a 2 hour drive over the 405!
September 5, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJill
This is fascinating. So cool.
November 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAriel

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