Plasticity & sensory freeways


Dr. Norman Doidge says that, “our discovery of the plastic nature of the brain is the biggest discovery in over 400 years.”  He mentions that “modern medicine has thought of the brain as having fixed parts, each of which perform one mental function in single areas in the brain, Doidge, Norman the Brain that changes itself, Viking press,2007, preface.  Our central nervous system is dynamic, always detecting every stimulus it encounters, the brain is flexible, adaptive and extremely intelligent.  Neuroplasticity is an intrinsic characteristic of the brain.  “The idea that the brain can change its own structure and function through thought and activity is, I believe, the most important alteration in our view of the brain since we first sketched out its basic anatomy and the workings, of its basic component, the neuron,” Doidge, Norman, the Brain that changes itself, Viking Press, 2007, preface.

Dr. Paul BachyRita used the analogy of brain maps to explain how our brains learn new information and skills and adapt to our environment.  Our brain maps have major pathways, these are like the freeways in our brain, that are responsible of handling large volumes of information and does so efficiently.  Now if there’s traffic on the highway, you can sit in traffic and remain idle, or you can get off on the secondary road.  These secondary roads in the brain are like “side street/backroads.”.  Brain map patterns are, up/down, left/right, which are the preferred pathways for basic human movement patterns.  Brain maps are the representation of the external world to the nervous system.  Overtime the brain takes these “side streets” and converts them into “superhighways” and re-routes information.

The fascinating phenomenon of phantom limb pain teaches us something valuable about how the central nervous system can rewire itself.  Persons with phantom arms can have the missing maps of the arm invaded by the maps in the face.  When the face is stroked, the person will feel the touch sensations in their phantom arm. How?  The maps of the arm originate on the opposite side of the brain., the maps intersect with the maps on the face.  Therefore, when these points are touched, the sensations are felt to arise from the missing hand but also felt in the maps in the face.  Because of the missing limbs sensory maps were cut in the case of an amputation, the brain rewires and reroutes the signals that at one point went to the intact arm, Phantoms in the Brain, Ramachandran V.S, M.D., PH.D. 1998, pages 30.

In order to assist in the healing and rebuilding process of the human body, priority should be given to finding the root cause of the matter.  Treating and dealing with just the condition is insufficient.  Low back pain accounts for the second most cause of disability in the united states according to the National center for biotechnology information conducted a study in of 2015 on the rising prevalence of low back pain.  NCBI mentions in a study that, “current protocols to treat lower back pain often includes the use of multiple health care Practioners, which some can argue encourages the further medicalization and persistence of lower back pain”, Queen, M. Robin, Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University. According to this study, nearly 1 out of every 60 athletes will suffer some sort of injury during their adolescent years.  Approximately 90% of these injured athletes will undergo an ACL reconstruction surgery which is estimated at an annual cost of Three Billion Dollars.  While reconstruction and subsequent rehabilitation allow these athletes to return to their sports, they will have a 15-fold increased risk of a secondary ACL injury, a tear at the ACL graft or, the contralateral ACL.  

In the fitness and rehabilitation industry, it is widely promoted that if the treatment protocol is not physically hurting the client or patient, it’s presumed there is still neural integrity.  However, tissue integrity does not always mean there is neural integrity, especially if one is judging the structural and neural integrity of the client based only on what you see.  Various forms of tissue manipulation such as massage, foam rolling, joint adjustment, or stretching can interfere with neural integrity.  This is important because, if we want to be effective specialists and coaches, valuable time, money and energy can’t be wasted on treatment protocols and fitness programs that don’t work.

As a certified motor control restoration specialist by Square 1 system, www.square1system.comand a certified Personal Trainer, pain is always a topic of concerns for my clients.  Therefore, I must be able to help them improve as fast as possible. When addressing any mechanism for tissue restriction, you must ask, is the tissue restriction protective muscle guarding? or is the restriction joint impingement?  There’s a fifty-fifty chance of being correct.  If the scenario presents itself as protective muscle guarding, there lies a reciprocal facilitation and inhibition of tissue.  Meaning, the brain by use of proprioceptors, causes the agonists to become hypertonic or have too much tone.  Additionally, it’s synergists and stabilizers are automatically facilitated while its antagonists are inhibited or become hypotonic or having too little tone, Frost, Robert, PhD, Applied Kinesiology revised edition,1950, pages 289.  In order to correct this, you can activate the underactive antagonists & release over active agonists.  

 In the case of joint impingement, joint centration is altered and there’s a state of hypotonic antagonists or muscles having too little tone and hypertonic agonists having excessive tone, Frost, Robert, PhD, Applied Kinesiology revised edition, 1950 pages 289.  To correct this issue, you could activate the under active antagonists & or release the hypertonic agonists.  As you can see, each scenario requires a different approach to correct the restriction.  So, which one is it? protective muscle guarding? Or joint impingement?  It’s nearly impossible to answer the question correctly consistently because there are thousands of scenarios of why the client is having this tissue restriction.  Therefore, we can’t trust what we see when it comes to restoring function at a fundamental level.

If I told you the outcome or answer to a math problem is 100, could you accurately give me the equation?  Is it 90+10? 200 minus 100? 1000/10?  Logical doesn’t mean necessarily mean accurate.  The same is true of observable movement outcomes.  “Tight hamstrings” could come from inhibited, weak, sleepy hip flexors, opposite side glute weakness or protect muscle guarding.  Many logical guesses are not accurate.  We need a better way to handle this complex subject of human movement and it probably needs to start from a simple yet intricate understanding of how bodies are supposed to move in a gravity governed world.

What causes protective muscle guarding and joint impingement?  Neural compensation.  Why must we compensate?  Because of planar & directional specific load intolerant joint positions.  Why do we have load intolerant issues?  Blocked movement sensorimotor pathways.  The brain detects these “off limits” joint positions and alters its movement plan.  As a result, tissue length-tension relationships can become altered. and joint centration is deviated.  Stress, trauma and pain can result in blocked of damaged pathways.  Overtime, compensation sets in. Like a tight low back, or a restricted right shoulder. Or a restricted neck.  Therefore, manipulation of tissue and joints is a temporary solution that addresses only symptoms rather than underlying causes.

Newer neuro-rehabilitative therapies are capitalizing on neuroplasticity and facilitating creation of new pathways.  Within Square 1, we reopen the original existing sensory movement pathways.  In this way we are saving the brain the energy of rebuilding new pathways.  We are essential converting neural side streets into neuro superhighways again.  Square 1 has a unique system that pinpoints preferred pathway blockages.  We correct this through hyper specific intent and secondarily through isolated physical practice of those specific positions in the form of isometric contractions.  The brain has specific needs and if you can read (not see) the needs of the brain well, magic happens very consistently.


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