She posted the replay of her webinar on Neural Mobility this morning, and I took some notes that I’d like to share with you below…
Also, please note that I do not represent Lisa Howell, and I cannot vouch for the truth of these statements. I am only sharing my notes from her webinar, and I do not claim to have definitive proof that any or all of these statements are correct, or that this is the best advice for classical dancers.
Remember that Lisa Howell is a physiotherapist, not a pedagogue, nor an expert in the teaching method of classical ballet, so please keep that in mind and read with a grain of salt. Thanks for understanding!
Central Nervous System (CNS) = Brain & spinal cord.
Peripheral Nervous System (PNS) = Nerves coming out from the spine in between the vertebrae and ending at the muscles in the arms & legs.
Neural mobility = Nerves in the PNS sliding along their sheaths (tubular casings surrounding the nerves). Can limit flexibility when a nerve gets “caught” somewhere along the sheath. For example, the Sciatic Nerve, which passes under the Piriformis muscle and comes out through the pelvis, can get caught and make it difficult to do the splits. Neural mobility is also part of why flexing the foot makes it more difficult to do a stretch: flexing the foot places tension on the nerves.
However, THE NERVES BY THEMSELVES CANNOT BE ISOLATED FROM THE MUSCLES AND OTHER SURROUNDING STRUCTURES.
Neural Releases vs. Neural Stretching:
Neural Releases are exercises to increase flexibility based on the assumption of Neuro Dynamics, which says that nerves have the ability to slide and may get caught at points along its lenth. Targeted releases can have an instant and lasting effect on flexibility.
Neural Stretching is an old method of increasing flexibility and is no longer recommended for most people. It is based on the assumption that the nerves are too short and must be lengthened. Neural stretching exercises include bending the head forward while flexing the foot with the leg outsretched in front of you. This is now known to cause inflammation and latent pain and should never be forced on someone, especially with bouncing!
Ways The Nerves Can Stop Sliding
1. Muscular & fascial impingement = Nerves can get caught where they pass through or under different muscles or fascia and cause decreased flexibility in other areas of the body. Examples: through the back of the neck, down the spine, through the hips, around the knee, inner thighs.
2. Fast growth spurt causing relative shortening of the nerve? (Not proven)
3. Chemical sensitisation = chemical irritation of the nerve caused by discal irritation or systemic inflammation (injuries, etc.)
Joint Hypermobility Syndrome
10-15% of normal children.
Increased laxity of ligaments = Dura mater surrounding spinal cord is more flexible than normal.
These people have an easier time dancing in some ways due to their extreme flexibilty.
Disadvantages include: slumping while sitting due to poor control over deep spinal stabilizing muscles and lower back pain due to more demand in bigger external muscles for postural suppport.
Need to strengthen deep back, pelvic floor & deep abdominal muscles.
Three things that can effect flexibilty:
1. Range of motion in the hip joint: Often blamed unnecessarily! The bones vary depending on the individual, but are very rarely the cause of flexibility issues in the hip joint.
2. Eccentric strength of adductor muscles: Often dancers are able to sit in the side splits but are unable to hold the rotation when they are standing up due to not having enough strength in the adductor muscles of the inner thigh.
Butterfly legs exercise: an exercise for strengthening these muscles is to lie on your back with your bottom against a wall and your legs straight up against the wall. Slowly lower the legs open to the side, using the adductor muscles to do the work.
3. Neural tension: The Saphenous Nerve can get caught in the Adductor Hiatus, a hole in the Adductor Magnus muscle at the point where it attaches to the femur.
Tip: Be careful that you do not sit in the side splits just before class. Sitting in the side splits for a few minutes or more will decrease your ability of your inner thigh muscles to contract for about 30mins afterwards.
Peroneal Nerve Tension
Sub-occipital muscles in the neck
Massage of the sub-occipital muscles, followed by strengthening the deep neck flexors, can make a huge difference in your flexibility.
Do deep hip releases and make sure you are isolating the correct turnout muscles.***
*** There are two different schools of thought when it comes to which muscles to use for holding turn-out. Read a discussion on this topic here.
Many Factors Affect Flexibility
Hormones, hydration, stress, certain foods, poor postural position (do thoracic/upper back mobility exercises), etc. Find out what affects you by paying attention to when you are most tight (certain times of day, sleeping position, etc.)
Simply being flexible is not enough. Having a high extension requires: 1. fine control of the muscles in the hip (not brute strength)***, 2. isolating only the muscles that are needed***, and 3. core control is essential.
*** Again, there are two different schools of thought. Read a discussion on this topic here.
Psoas Major needs to be used for high extensions to the front or side. In normal people, the psoas major is used to stabilize the spine, but in dancers it is not good to use this muscle to stabilize the spine because then it is not available for holding extensions; dancer will start to overuse the muscles on the front and side of the hip (TFL and Rectus Femoris).
Core muscles to strengthen for turn-out and extension:
Overextending the upper neck can pinch the arteries at the back of the neck and cause light-headedness.
Strenghten the deep neck flexors to hold it in the right position. Exercise by lifting the neck while lying on your back, keeping the tiny muscles on the front of your neck relaxed and lengthening out through the spine. Chin should never be touching the chest while doing abdominal exercises! Keep neck long with space through the back of the neck, not snapped back.
Improving Your Feet
Tension in the muscles and nerves of the feet and ankles can limit your range of movement. Use massage to free up this tension.
- Thomas Meyers & fascia = intertwines with the neural system.
- Turn-Out: gripping with the turn-out muscles need to be released. Releases up deep into the pelvis. Strengthening, controlling inside thigh muscles, rather than just increasing the range. Make sure not to sit in second right before class: sitting for more than a few minutes can decrease ability of inner thigh muscles to contract for about 30mins.
- Little kids: neck massage focus. 13-15yrs, introduce tennis ball releases. 30-50yrs, focus on releases.
- Activation of the glutes while walking: should activate. If not, hamstring tends to contract and get tight. Test firing if student is more flexible on one side rather than another: place fingertips on the lower back, top and bottom of the butt and hamstrings, and see if the glutes contract while student lifts the leg a few cms off the ground.
- For younger kids doing splits, have them lift hands off the floor to gain more strength and control in those positions.
- Try not to crack your back as a habit: it stretches the things that are already stretched and keeps the parts that are tight tight.