Neural system mobilization is frequently used in the treatment of several painful conditions. Data on nerve biomechanics is critical to informing the design of mobilization exercises. Therefore, the aim of this review is to characterize normal nervous system biomechanics in terms of excursion and strain. Studies were sought from Pubmed, Physiotherapy Evidence Database, Cochrane Library, Web of Science and Scielo. Two reviewers’ screened titles and abstracts, assessed full reports for potentially eligible studies, extracted information on studies’ characteristics and assessed its methodological quality. Twelve studies were included in this review that assessed the median nerve (n=8), the ulnar nerve (n=1), the tibial nerve (n=1), the sciatic nerve (n=1) and both the tibial and the sciatic nerves (n=1). All included studies assessed longitudinal nerve excursion and one assessed nerve strain. Absolute values varied between 0.1mm and 12.5mm for median nerve excursion, between 0.1mm and 4.0mm for ulnar nerve excursion, between 0.7mm and 5.2mm for tibial nerve excursion and between 0.1mm and 3.5mm for sciatic nerve excursion. Maximum reported median nerve strain was 2.0%.
Range of motion for the moving joint, distance from the moving joint to the site of the lesion, position of adjacent joints, number of moving joints and whether joint movement stretches or shortens the nerve bed need to be considered when developing neural mobilization exercises due to all of these factors appearing to have an effect on nerve excursion.