Can the brain heal itself?
We are often asked by clients and carers about the potential for the brain to heal itself after injury. In this short article, Eirin Andersen, Neurological Physiotherapist for Physio Matters explains in simple terms how the brain and nervous system respond to changes both following injury and also as we learn new skills. This process is known as Neuroplasticity.
What is neuroplasticity?
The term ‘neuroplasticity’ originates from the words ‘neuron’ and ‘plastic’. ‘Neuron’ refers to our brains’ nerve cells, and plastic means to ‘sculpt’ or ‘modify’.
Exciting research has proven that the brain is not ‘hard-wired’ as previously thought and can adapt to changes due to demands or damage. The brain and nervous system has the potential to reorganise and adapt following damage, potentially resulting in new neural pathways being created. Building new neural pathways can be better understood if thinking of learning something new. The more practice you get at something, the better you become at the new skill you are learning.
How does neuroplasticity work?
Neurons are built up of axons (‘nerve fibres’) and dendrites (‘branching from cell body’), and are connected to one another by small spaces called synapses. When learning a new skill, new neural connections are created by synapses that do not usually fire together. This mechanism is called ‘axonal sprouting’, meaning that undamaged axons can grow new nerve endings, in which they can reconnect with neurons whose links have been injured. Undamaged axons can also sprout nerve endings and connect with undamaged neurons, which in term forms new neural pathways for a person to be able to accomplish a required function.
What does this mean for recovery after injury?
In other words, the brain can compensate for damage by forming new connections between undamaged neurons. To be able to reconnect, the neurons have to be stimulated through activity. This means that after neurological damage as physiotherapist we need to stimulate the brain with new activities to promote recovery as far as possible.
Click here for a simple informative video explaining this concept courtesy of Sentis.
Please contact us at Physio Matters if you have any questions on how physiotherapy may be able to help you and to book an assessment with one of our experienced neurological physiotherapists.