Do you feel that your hamstrings are a limiting factor when doing certain skills in the air? If so, know that you're definitely not alone! The hamstrings are a very common tight place for a lot of people. However, there's something that's often overlooked when assessing if the tight sensation in your body puts full blame on your hamstring muscles themselves. The other possible culprit: neural tension.
So what is neural tension exactly? Neural tension is a bit like a roadblock for your nerves, making it hard for them to slide and glide through your tissues like they normally do. These peripheral nerves are responsible for all the feels and actions in your arms and legs. But when they're compressed and under tension, they can send some symptoms to different parts of your limbs, such as pain, numbness, tingling sensations and altered movement. The sciatic nerve, for example, is the largest and longest nerve in your body, originating at the base of the spine and running along the back of each leg into the foot. If it's compressed and not gliding back and forth normally, it can cause a lot of discomfort in the body including tightness and, in some cases, a nagging 'zing' feeling down the back of the leg.
So how do we know if it's tight hamstrings, neural tension, or both? Grab a small ball (lacrosse ball, tennis ball, or dog toy!), and see the video below, where I take you through quick assessments to find out!
To assess whether you have neural tension, start in a pike position and elongate your back. Point your feet and then flex them. If you feel a nervy sensation when you flex your feet, it's a sign that there's neural tension running down the backside of your body. Flexing your feet in pike doesn't change the stretch in your hamstring muscles themselves whatsoever.
Next, stand up and fold forward. If you feel tightness or limited range of motion, it's worth trying to release tension in the sciatic nerve. One way to do this is by massaging the bottom of your feet with a small ball for 30 seconds to a minute on each foot. Then, massage your calf muscles up and down to release tension there as well. After this, fold forward again in your seated pike and standing fold and see if you notice any changes.
If your range of motion improved, then tada! you likely have some neural tension cookin'. Incorporating the ball massage into your training warm-ups will be beneficial in addition to your flexibility training. If you found this helpful, share it with a friend! P.S. I'm not a physical therapist, but an aerialist with a Pilates background who loves to nerd out on these things! Of course, it's always a good idea to consult with a physical therapist, physician or other movement pro if you're dealing with pain or discomfort.