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How Movement Improves Brain Function

Movement is essential to the function of our heart, lungs, and lymphatic system. Movement is critical to keeping our muscles, joints, cartilage, and connective tissue healthy. Movement aids in the delivery of oxygen and nutrients throughout our body and assists in removal of metabolic waste products.

These are points that the majority of us have either heard about or have come to understand about the importance of movement as it relates to our overall health.

Yet one major benefit of movement is often overlooked - the stimulation of pathways required for proper brain and body function.

Yep, that’s correct. Movement - especially of the spine - is required for proper brain function and coordination of activities such as concentration and learning, motor control, emotions, and optimizes organ and immune function.
There is a reason why you experience an increase in mental alertness after exercise or even a visit to the chiropractor. According to Roger Sperry, Nobel Prize recipient in Brain Research, movement of the spine generates 90% of the nerve stimulation used to run the brain.
The brain does not simply control the body, the brain requires constant stimulation and that stimulation comes from movement.

Movement charges your brain’s battery and enables you to think, function, and feel better.
Sound a bit too good to be true?

The work of some of the most prominent neurologists and physiologists in the world continually support the role of movement in brain and nervous system health.

The stimulation your brain receives from movement – once again, especially of your spine – is now being considered essential to optimal brain function and development. In fact, research is now showing that people who do not adequately stimulate their brain through movement have learning, memory, emotional, and behavioral deficits.
This is especially true for children because spinal joint receptor stimulation plays an integral role in the development of the child’s brain and nervous system. The effects of decreased stimulation of the brain in childhood have been linked to central motor impairment, developmental impairments, learning disabilities, and concentration problems like ADHD.

Regardless of your age, the message should be clear at this point: Movement does a body – and brain – good.
Get out and get moving.

More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/tips-on-recovery-and-restoration/

https://gallagherperformance.com/does-practice-make-permanent-how-practice-rewires-your-nervous-system/

Painful Back? You May Be Hurting It By Stretching

What you need to know:

  • Many healthcare providers and trainers poorly understand how movement of the nervous system relates to several common pain syndromes and musculoskeletal conditions.
  • Dealing with neural tension is not as simple as just stretching. While stretching may feel good, it very easily may aggravate symptoms.
  • Once appropriate treatment of neural tension begins, patients often normalize their movement very quickly and experience pain relief. Often this pain relief is instantaneous.
What is Neural Tension?
Neural tension is rather unheard of yet it often plays a significant role in many pain syndromes and musculoskeletal conditions. We all understand for movement to occur in the body, joints must move and your muscles must contract. But did you know that your nervous system tissue must also move freely and unimpeded during movement?

Neural tension is commonly mistaken for muscle tension. Your nerves were not designed to stretch, but rather to glide and give during movement.
If some form of obstruction (soft tissue or bony) impedes your neural tissue then pain or restriction of normal nerve movement is a common result. This normal nerve movement may only be a matter of millimeters, but nerve tissue is highly sensitive and does not like to stretch. Thus if too much stretch is placed on a nerve, the result is adverse neural tension and that can create pain, limited range of motion, as well as other classical symptoms associated with nerve tissue (numbness, burning, shooting pain, etc.)

Neural Tension Treatment
The movement of your nerves, or neurodynamics, can be assessed by a licensed chiropractor or therapist trained in the process of detecting and treating neural tension. Screens or tests commonly used to identify neural tension help identify not only which nerve(s) have adverse neural tension but also where the nerve is being obstructed during its movement. Identify where the nerve is being obstructed is critically important because treatment is tailored to the site of obstruction.

Again, this highlights the importance of an accurate assessment as treatment can be more accurately applied to the structure(s) creating adverse neural tension. Once treatment begins, patients often normalize their movement very quickly and experience pain relief. Often this nerve pain relief is instantaneous.

What Conditions Commonly Involve Adverse Neural Tension?
Some common conditions that adverse neural tension often plays a role in or is a complicating factor that must be treated include:
  • Neck Pain
  • Shoulder Pain
  • Tennis Elbow
  • Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Low Back Pain
  • Hip Pain
  • Sciatica
  • Plantar Fasciitis
Stretching vs Nerve Mobilizations
A common misconception in the treatment of back pain and associated muscle tightness is the idea that one must stretch to get relief. Stretching may bring temporary relief, only for one to experience the tightness come back once again or, worse yet, an increase in their pain.

Interestingly, when neural tension is identified as the underlying reason for muscle tightness, the treatment of neural tension doesn't actually involve stretching. Excessive stretching can actually irritate your nerves and increase pain. Excessive stretching may potentially damage your nerves as well.

This should make the message pretty clear - stretching may not be the best thing for your back when it's giving you all the signs that it isn't responding favorably.

Rather than stretching, restricted nerves and the surrounding muscles require a different approach known as nerve mobilizations or nerve sliders. Qualified chiropractors and physical therapists will utilize nerve mobilizations to help entraped nerves slide better during movement. They will also treat the surrounding muscles or tissues that is obstructing your normal nerve movement. After treatment, they will retest your neurodynamics and repeat the process until your full neural movement is restored. This process may take a few treatments to clear up, or take several, depending on severity.

Research Supports Neurodynamics
The concept of neurodynamics or neuromobilization is originally based on the research of Michael Shacklock and David Butler. Over the past several years, further research has added to the scientific support of the concept that your nerve tissue requires full freedom of movement to remain pain-free.

The following excerpts are from Michael Shacklock’s book Clinical Neurodynamics: a new system of musculoskeletal treatment:
"Neurodynamics is an innovative management tool involving conservative decompression of nerves, various neural mobilising techniques and patient education techniques. Neurodynamics offers a fresh understanding and management strategies for common syndromes such as plantar fasciitis, tennis elbow, nerve root disorders, carpal tunnel syndromes and spinal pain."

"Essentially the entire nervous system is a continuous structure and it moves and slides in the body as we move and the movement is related to critical physiological processes such as blood flow to neurones. This movement is quite dramatic and it is not hard to imagine that fluid such as blood in the nerve bed, a constricting scar, inflammation around the nerve or a nerve having to contend with arthritic changes or proximity to an unstable joint could have damaging effects, some of which could lead to pain."
Final Words
Neural tension can be present with many common musculoskeletal conditions, such as back pain. Very often neural tension is easily mistaken for muscle tension, leading many to want to stretch in order to find relief. Stretching can be counterproductive and may aggravate pain symptoms. In order to treat neural tension, it must be examined accordingly. At GP, we are trained in detecting and treating adverse neural tension and why it is present.

If your pain is not resolving with other interventions, consider your pain may be associated with neural tension and you may benefit from the most appropriate course of treatment and client education.

More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/why-stretching-wont-solve-your-tight-muscles/

 

Does Practice Make Permanent? How Practice Rewires Your Nervous System

In our younger years, many of us likely heard the expression “Practice Makes Perfect.” This usually came from a parent, coach, or teacher. Some took the saying a step further, adding “Perfect Practice Makes Perfect.” Some even say, "Practice Makes Permanent". Regardless, still the message was clear – if you want to improve, you need to put in some time and focused effort. You need to practice.

But is all about simply practicing or do we need to have a different focus?

Research has provided a better understanding of how practice influences skill development, helping us understand how the nervous system is rewired during the process. While there are many components to consider during the process of motor learning and skill acquisition, in this article we will be discussing how a unique tissue to the nervous system called myelin plays a critical role in the acquisition and mastery of skills.

Practice Rewires the Nervous System
When we are exposed to a movement or sport skill that is new or unfamiliar, the result is typically feeling awkward and uncoordinated. To some degree, we may be apprehensive. This is normal and to be expected. But, as we practice, something happens. Things get smoother, we feel more comfortable, and the movement/skill becomes more natural.

What is happening?

What practice is actually doing is rewiring your nervous system to become more efficient during complex movement tasks through a process called myelination.

The Role of Myelin
Understanding all the intricacies of the nervous system is not the point of this article, but a little background will be helpful. Myelin is a tissue that covers our neurons, the cells that make up the nervous system. Myelin is mostly a fatty substance, with cholesterol being an essential component. It serves to insulate nerve cells and has a characteristic “white” appearance. This is why most people refer to myelin as “white matter” when discussing the nervous system. What science has helped us understand is that myelin improves the speed and strength of nerve signals, meaning that myelinated nerves transmit signals faster than non-myelinated nerves. Myelin helps our nervous system function at a higher level.

Ok, so how do we get myelin onto our nerves?

To begin with, the majority of myelination occurs during the early stages of development. These stages of development occur during the 2-3 years after birth and into early childhood. Children are myelin-generating machines. This can be seen not only in respect to movement, but also with language and comprehension skills as well. Where there is development, you will find myelin. This is why there are critical developmental stages that exist in long-term athletic developmental (LTAD) models. LTAD models help us understand that we cannot make up for lost time. Sure, as we get older we can continue to generate myelin, but it happens at a slower rate and requires more effort. This is why most young athletes who miss critical developmental stages tend to get passed up later in their athletic careers.

So what’s the big deal about critical developmental stages?

It provides children with graded exposure to skills through practice and repetition. The process of practice and repeated effort triggers a pattern of signals through our nervous system. With time and repetition, myelin is produced to increase the speed, strength, and coordination of these nerve signals. It’s a streamlining effect that your nervous system undergoes due to exposure to a repeated sensory stimulus and motor (movement) output.

Practice Makes Myelin, So Practice With Purpose
Understanding the role of myelination in skill acquisition has tremendous implications. Yes, volume and frequency of practice matters, but myelination makes a case for understanding why quality of practice matters. Practicing with an extreme focus on quality is equally, if not more important, than simply practicing a lot. Don’t just practice to practice. Corrections should be made as they are needed. You don’t want to spent the majority of your time practicing bad habits, as bad habits are hard to correct. Bad habits arguably are not permanent. However, the longer they exist, the harder they are to unlearn. Myelin is a big reason why.

In the context of training and sport skill development, if you lift/sprint/jump/practice with poor technique and no one corrects your mistakes, you will be myelinating those nerve pathways – which does you no good and only serves to lowering your athletic potential. Sure you may improve, but you will never reach your true potential. And the longer your bad habits remain, the harder it is to correct them.

The takeaway: practice of movement skills over time causes specific neural pathways to work better via myelination. To improve your performance, you not only need to practice FREQUENTLY, you also must practice CORRECTLY and receive plenty of feedback from a qualified coach so you are able to properly develop your movement and sport skills.
More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/unlock_your_potential_with_this_powerful_tip/

https://gallagherperformance.com/movement-improves-brain-function/

Periodization: Keep Athletes on Track for Success

Your nervous system has a nasty of habit of adapting.

Adaptation is the ultimate goal of training. Physical training is intended to create the stimulus needed for adaptation. Adaptation takes on a number looks, be it increased muscle mass, increased strength, improved speed and power outputs, or increased cardiovascular efficiency. The desired adaptations will always depend upon the needs of the athlete and how periodization influences each training phase or block.

Training phase? Training block? Periodization?

If these terms are unfamiliar to you, let us emphasize why they need to be important to you: Your nervous system gets bored of everything.
Our bodies are wired in such a way that unless we change some variable (volume, intensity, frequency, etc.) of the training stimulus, we will ultimately fail to continually adapt.

Periodization and the pursuit of adaptation is the foundation of scientific progression in physical training and athletic development. Great coaches will put you on a program long enough for you to adapting to it, then they introduce change.

Periodization is simply organization of training. One must have an expertise of how organization of training and exercise selection expertise impacts development. This is a prerequisite to training anyone, but unfortunately there are many under-qualified trainers and coaches out there that do not understand these concepts. Entire teams or groups of individuals should not all be performing the same training. This would assume the entire team or everyone in your group training class has the same deficiencies. Approaching training in this fashion is just ridiculous and deserves to be criticized. Periodization and training is an individualized process. The fitness industry and fad-based training has convinced the public that periodization and planning is not needed. Well, at least until training fails to produce meaningful results.

Understand there is no perfect program or system, just phases of training. Training is an ongoing process. Periodization and the planning of training is an ongoing process. This is why your trainer or coach must be putting some thought into your training, otherwise your success is always in jeopardy.

More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/commonmistakesindevelopingyoungathletes/

Unlock Your Potential With This Powerful Tip

“Everyone has way more strength and power than they know how to use.“
- Larry Mather, Canadian Weighlifting Coach

Let's be clear about something: Movement is a skill. This means that exercise form is a skill. Strength is a skill. Speed is a skill. For those that have participated or are currently participating in athletics, you can appreciate the importance of practice in developing skill. Who will progress more rapidly at their sport, the individual who practices 2 hours per week or the one who is practicing 10 hours per week? Assuming all things are equal, the individual with the greater training volume will progress and achieve mastery the quickest. Understand that training volume accounts for a number of factors including training frequency, duration, load, intensity, velocity of movement, etc.

Why am I bringing this up?

Frankly, there seems to be a lot of misinformation being perpetuated about building strength, speed, or mastery in regards to highly technical movements such as sprinting, squatting, and the Olympic lifts (snatch, clean and jerk). What cannot be forgotten is that these movements are a total body approach that requires every joint to contribute in order for quality work to be performed. They require a high degree of skill and neurological coordination in the execution of the movement. Regardless of whether you want to debate where stability or mobility is needed at specific regions of the body during specific joint actions, the concept of adequate neuromuscular integrity in all directions must be present.

From a motor learning perspective, strength and power development is neuroplasticity. Clients and athletes are basically undergoing computer programming during training. The greater training volume one experiences, the quicker neural pathways will adapt to become more efficient and coordinated. When you focus on the how (technique), the how much (load or amount of weight lifted) will take care of itself. A more skilled lifter is typically stronger. They can display greater strength potential due to skill in technique and skill in their ability to generate and apply more force.

If you’ve ever coached an athlete or client through technical movements, you will most certainly understand that technique is of utmost importance. Coaching technique as it applies to sprinting, squatting, weightlifting requires that one understands biodynamics and physics. Meaning, doing it the right way is the easiest way. This also means that if the client or athlete is displaying poor technique, often times there is central motor coordination issue that must be addressed accordingly. This is what is know as, "Training the Brain." Yes, muscular imbalances and poor joint dynamics may exist, but it is very common that perceived lack of mobility is simply a result of faulty motor patterning. Rather than focusing on mobility drills and stretches to improve movement quality, appropriate cuing and biofeedback may be all that is necessary. Just watch an experienced coach in action and you’ll understand what I mean.

A coach that understands how to help their client or athlete "Train The Brain", will unlock strength and athletic potential they never knew they could achieve.

More related reading:

https://gallagherperformance.com/qa-with-head-performance-coach-ryan-gallagher-lmt-ces/

https://gallagherperformance.com/advanced-training-for-elite-athletes/

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  • Murrysville, PA 15668

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