Neuroplasticity & Chiropractic
Sep 30, 2016 12:13PM
by Dr. Patrick Dower
Remember when, as a child, you were told that you had a finite number of brain cells to last your entire life? Many people also become familiar with this concept while drinking in college. They are conditioned to believe that, when killing those brain cells through alcohol excess, new cells will not regenerate. To those, for whom college is now over 25 years in the rearview mirror, I am not advocating a return to those infamous “red cup and keg days,” but I can tell you that neurogenesis (formation of new brain cells) does, in fact, continue throughout your life. However, it’s the consistent use of your brain that has been shown to precipitate new growth.
The brain’s ability to transform through the course of learning and experience is called neuroplasticity. Plasticity allows the nervous system to transcend any genetic limitations, environmental restraints, and disease related challenges or traumas to make the adaptions necessary to facilitate the healthiest possible future. Effectively, two ways through which the brain modifies itself are a change in the internal structure of neurons, particularly in synapses, and an increase in the number of synapses that exists between neurons (Durbach, 2000).
The medical community widely accepts the idea that your central nervous system can mold, organize and reorganize, based on the input it receives. Your nervous system is always learning and making the necessary adaptations to, not only survive, but thrive in your environment, occupation and overall physical challenges. For example, playing the violin, working a computer keyboard, practicing Tai Chi, learning Morse code or even speed walking can positively influence brain structures to build healthy cells and tissues (Pascuel-Leone A, 2005, Melnik, M. 1997).
There can also be negative plasticity which often leads to pathology, and adversely impacts your health or behavior. The challenge we face is learning enough about the mechanisms of plasticity to modulate them for achieving the desired health and behavioral outcomes instead. If the environment for plasticity is sick, then more plasticity cannot create health. In other words, creating more synapses per neuron would only create more pathology in a sick environment.
Restoring Positive Neuroplasticity
Areas of reduced or restricted spinal motion cause spinal degeneration, causing changes in neurological communication between the brain and body. For the nervous system to maintain its optimal level of neuroplastic function, there needs to be feedback from nerve receptors and ligaments, tendons and muscles in the spine which are only activated by movement (Dr. Sperry). Spinal segments that have lost normal range of motion will result in a dramatic decrease in sensory feedback to the brain.
In conclusion, through the great work of Nobel Prize for Medicine Recipient Dr. Roger Sperry during the 1940s, as well as continued research today, we know that brain and nervous system development throughout a person’s lifespan is determined by an environment for positive neuroplasticity. We create this atmosphere with mental exercise, physical exercise and proper maintenance of the spinal column, as proven by the illustrious Dr. Sperry.