Harnessing the Power of Neuroplasticity for Pain Relief and Healing

“It’s just like riding a bike.”

When someone uses this phrase, they don’t necessarily mean that whatever you’re trying to do is equivalent to riding a bike. Rather, what they mean to say is, “your body remembers, even if you don’t”. But how does that work exactly?

The Science Behind Neuroplasticity

The first reflexes and movement patterns we learn as children are based on what each area of the body was designed to do. When you learn a new skill or movement, your body creates a pathway in your brain with electrical impulses, essentially creating a railway for the pulses to follow next time you complete that skill. Then, the more you practice, the more established that pathway becomes. This ability to form new pathways in the brain is due to a phenomenon known as Neuroplasticity.

Childhood Neuroplasticity and Lifelong Learning

During the first few years of life, the brain is particularly neuroplastic, allowing us to grow and learn the basic skills we need to function as human beings, like holding our heads up, walking, and speaking. As a child, neuroplasticity is at an all time high, this is why children learn as quickly as they do. The brain essentially goes from being a blank slate at birth, to a fully comprehensive map of everything they’ve learned in a matter of years. 

Beyond Childhood: The Continued Plasticity of Adults

Originally, scientists believed that the brain stopped developing after the first few years of life. However, while studying monkeys, they found that after examining the brains over a period of time, they were able to find different neuronal connections with each examination (1). This actually makes a lot of sense due to the fact alone that adults are capable of learning new skills. It’s certainly not as easy as it was in infancy, however it is possible. As the brain ages, neuroplasticity slows down, but never stops completely.

A fantastic example of plasticity in adult brains is shown by how the brain changes after injury (2). After suffering from a stroke or other type of traumatic brain injury a person may temporarily lose function of a particular area in the body. However, in the time after the incident, they may regain function. This is not necessarily due to rapid healing of that particular pathway, but rather the brain’s ability to reorganize itself by creating new connections.

Overcoming Challenges: The Role of ARPwave NeuroTherapy

It is not abundantly clear exactly how plasticity shapes the brain morphology and physiology, but, what is clear is that it does (3).

As amazing as it is, this ability to reroute neurological pathways can also be problematic, causing what is known as maladaptive plasticity (4). This can be seen in conditions such as phantom limb pain but also in common, everyday mechanical occurrences known as compensation patterns.

When you get hurt, this triggers a protective response in the body signaling that area needs to rest, however, your body also needs to continue functioning. So, what happens is your brain reorganizes itself in a way that allows for continued function while directing force away from the injured area (i.e. a limp when you hurt your ankle). Unfortunately, the longer the body maintains usage of that compensation pattern, the more deeply ingrained the pathway becomes. This can sometimes result in continued usage of the compensation pattern through muscle memory alone even long after the original injury has healed. This is problematic for several reasons, but the biggest one is that this alternate way of moving becomes the new normal despite that area not being designed to bear the brunt of that force.

By altering our baseline movement patterns, we are inadvertently redirecting the force into an area that is not equipped to handle it. Long term this can cause pain, additional injury, and further compensation patterns.

ARPwave NeuroTherapy: Harnessing Neuroplasticity for Healing

Luckily, we can use the very same neuroplasticity that caused this original compensation pattern to our advantage. ARPwave NeuroTherapy has had incredible success in eliminating compensation patterns through utilizing a current similar to what the brain naturally sends, to trigger another reorganization without additional injury. Through the use of proper movement and external electrical impulses, the ARPwave protocols help clients revert back to the original movement patterns we learned as children.

Take Control of Your Neuroplasticity

If you or someone you know suffers from chronic pain or has recently experienced an injury, please reach out to book a call with an ARPwave physical therapist today. Neuroplasticity is already something that your brain experiences, so you might as well use it to your advantage.

  1. Neuroplasticity - Huntington’s Outreach Program for Education, at Stanford https://hopes.stanford.edu/neuroplasticity/ 
  1.  Neuroplastic Changes Following Brain Ischemia and their Contribution to Stroke Recovery: Novel Approaches in Neurorehabilitation https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5352696/ 
  1. The Impact of Studying Neuroplasticity https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6400842/ 
  1. Neuroplasticity https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK557811/#:~:text=It%20is%20defined%20as%20the,traumatic%20brain%20injury%20(TBI).

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