This week, I want to talk about neuroplasticity. This fascinating development in neuroscience has become a hot topic across the alternative health field—and we're just beginning to comprehend the incredible adaptive capacity of the human brain.
It's pretty exciting!
The old school medical paradigm believed that once we were fully developed adults, the brain was basically fixed. As in, done growing. All it could really do from there, was decline.
As it turns out, nothing could be farther from the truth. Your brain can adapt and reprogram its synaptic connections — in minutes.
A few years ago, I read a seminal book on this topic, The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science, by Dr. Norman Doidge. There's also a new documentary on his work that I highly recommend (see the video below).
This science, and what it means for the body's pain response, have become a guiding principle behind Coaching The Body treatment protocols.
You often hear the brain and central nervous system (CNS) compared to a kind of computer, or network.
But unlike your MacBook Pro over there, this "computer" can change its hardware all by itself, on the fly.
One of my favorite case studies in the book is Dr. Norman Moscowitz's severe chronic pain clinic in Sausalito, CA. His clients are '24/7/10 pain patients' (the most severe pain possible, all the time), who have been abandoned by conventional medicine, and have basically lost all hope.
Conventional medicine tries to block the chemical pain pathway—with pharmaceuticals, usually of the opiate variety.
But with these patients, that no longer works. They are so up-regulated, their brains are on high alert, producing a pain response 24 hours a day like an unceasing air raid siren.
You would have to literally kill them with opiates to stop it.
Dr. Moscowitz's approach (which, I might add, has been wildly successful) is founded on the notion that the brain is what's producing the pain, not some condition in the tissues.
With chronic pain, that is always the case. Long after an injury or disease is resolved on-site, the CNS is still capable of generating a pain response all on its own.
As my back surgeon friend, Dr. David Hanscom (check out his work at www.backincontrol.com) said in a recent conversation, "Pain is an output, not an input." BTW, this is NOT what most of the core medical establishment believes.
If the brain produces pain, and the brain can rewire itself, Moscowitz reasoned that even these extreme cases could be dealt with by "hacking" neuroplasticity to downregulate the CNS, thus restoring pain-free movement and giving these people their lives back. (Does any of this sound familiar? 😉)
His techniques have been extremely successful.
My own work has built upon this model by adding another key insight.
Central down-regulation is certainly a crucial component, but what about the conditions that send the CNS into high alert in the first place?
One of the most common (and yet, poorly understood) sources of these signals are trigger points, and the referred pain that comes from them.
Our technique (what we call 'Trigger Point Therapy 2.0') can vastly shorten the overall process of down-regulation, because the positive neuroplastic changes will occur more quickly if they can be reinforced by experiencing pain-free movement in real time.
This is deep stuff. Literally could be a dissertation—but I can hear the music swelling, and a stagehand is giving me the "wrap it up" signal.
Anyway. We have an upcoming course that covers a lot of these topics, as well as delving deeper into trigger point theory, and providing practical examples of how we work with pain and muscles in our clinic. (See below)
Here's a clip from The Brain That Changes Itself...