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Neuroplasticity: What is Your Brain Doing During Physical Therapy?

06.19.2019 | Therapy

The brain plays an important role when you’re undergoing physical therapy. It perceives pain and is constantly adapting throughout the process. This adaptive process is known as neuroplasticity and is crucial for the success of therapy.

Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorder itself based off of received stimuli. Translated simply, the brain is malleable. It learns and adapts as we do, constantly taking into account environmental variables and individual activity. This can be good and bad. Upon injury, the cells of the brain, otherwise known as neurons, can become damaged and lose their function. It is possible to regain function through repetitious activity, which rewires the pathways of these neurons. If left neglected, other regions can begin to overcompensate for the injured areas, strengthening new connections while the old ones essentially disappear. Reversing this rewiring proves to be extremely difficult, though rehabilitative intervention can steer this process of neuroplasticity in the right direction.

Repetitive activity is part of the reason performing specific strength training with MedX equipment is so successful. At PDR Clinics, our therapists utilize this state-of-the-art equipment to isolate and strengthen the muscles of the spine to effectively treat neck and low back pain.  Performing this exercise repetitively twice a week, every week; being consistent with a home exercise program; and keeping up with a maintenance program after discharge are all ways to keep neuroplasticity headed in the right direction.

The brain thrives off of activity. Several studies have proven the efficacy of moderate physical activity leading to an increase in neuroplasticity.  An interesting study done on rats and long-term wheel running revealed positive neuroplastic changes in the structure of the neurons, which also improves cognitive function, all from consistently running on a wheel!  By simply adding in some light exercise three times a week (including therapy at PDR two of those three days J), you can reverse cognitive decline and decrease chronic pain to live a happier and healthier life!

 

Sources:

Larsen, Deborah S. PT, PhD. (2012) Why Neuroplasticity? Journal of Neurologic Physical Therapy. 36(2),                1-2. doi: 10.1097/NPT.0b013e3182567076.

Phillips, Cristy. (2017) Lifestyle Modulators of Neuroplasticity: How Physical Activity, Mental   Engagement, and Diet Promote Cognitive Health during Aging. Hindawi: Neural Plasticity,        volume 17, 1-2. doi.org/10.1155/2017/3589271.