A common complaint among runners and other athletes is that niggling pain in their calves or hamstrings that doesn’t seem to go away after an injury. Most people are under the impression that “nerve” related pain has to be in the form of pins/needles, tingling or numbness. Nerve related pain or neural tension can actually mimic an ache or a “strain” type feeling in the muscle.
Nerves just like muscles cross multiple joints and need to slide, bend, elongate and withstand compression forces. If the movement of a nerve is affected or is under increased stress the muscles and tissue innervated or surrounding the nerve can also be affected. In relation to your leg, most people have heard of the ‘sciatic’ nerve which starts from your lower back and navigates it’s way through the back of your thigh and then splits into nerve branches which supply the calf and foot.
Sometimes the sciatic nerve can be irritated or compressed near the lumbar spine where the nerve exits. For example, a bulging disc can compress the nerve which can then transfer pain further down the leg. A common misconception is the need for back pain to be present with leg related pain, both can exist on their own when it comes to neural tension. Neural tension can be set off simply by sitting poorly in slumped postures at work all day over an extended period of time.
Adverse neural tension can also co-exist with regular soft tissue injuries, so if you have strained/torn your hamstring there is also likely to be an element of neural tension. Physiotherapists are able to determine whether neural tension is present by performing special tests that examine the nerves tension and movement ability. Treatment will depend on where the nerve is being affected. Joint mobilisations in the lumbar spine can be used if the compression is where the nerve exits; otherwise if the nerve gets caught up in any other soft tissue or bony region other mobilisation techniques can be used, such as soft tissue releases and special nerve tension/gliding techniques.
Adverse neural tension can be uncomfortable and can literally be a pain in the BUTT. If you’re unsure whether your slow progressing hamstring injury or leg pain has another cause, be sure to book an appointment with one of the Bend + Mend Physiotherapists for a thorough assessment today.