WHAT IS NEUROPLASTICITY?

Neuroplasticity describes an ability that the brain has to adapt to changes in a person’s environment and the structure of their brain. This adaptation takes place in the brain by forming new neural connections over time.

Neuroplasticity explains how a person is able to adapt to changing situations, master new skills, store information and memories, and recover from traumatic brain injuries like concussions.

At Broadview Spine & Health Centre, we use treatments that promote positive neuroplasticity to speed up and guide the recovery process for patients who have suffered a concussion.

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scan of brain with concussion

TREATMENTS FOR CONCUSSION

illustration shows movement disorder in brain cells

HOW DOES NEUROPLASTICITY WORK?

Before you can understand how neuroplasticity works, you first need to understand how neurons work in the human brain. Neurons are cells within the brain which communicate with each other by transmitting electrochemical signals through a structure called the synapse. These signals travel through many neurons in the brain along what is called a neural pathway. When people study something, or practice a skill, these neural pathways are repeatedly stimulated and strengthened which translates to new memories being formed.

In addition to strengthening existing pathways, the brain can create new synapses to form new neural pathways. This process lies at the core of neuroplasticity and the brain handles it in two ways.

 

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Rerouting

When the brain suffers a traumatic injury, neurons in the brain become damaged and are unable to transmit signals through the neural pathway properly. This damage is what causes certain symptoms that a person who suffers a traumatic brain injury can experience. Rather than force the damaged neurons to transmit these signals, the brain will gradually make new connections between active neurons to create alternate neural pathways and terminate the pathways with damaged neurons. These new pathways then need to be strengthened through repeated exercise to restore the lost of functions caused by the injury.

Sprouting

When a neuron becomes damaged, it will degenerate over time. This process will cause the neural pathway to weaken and eventually fail. To make up for this degeneration process, other healthy neurons in the area will sprout new synapses to replace the connections that are lost by the degenerating neurons.

brain map of neurological disorder

A CONCUSSION: VISUALIZED

Impact

A blow to either the head or body initiates the concussion sequence. Brain fluid and protective membranes (meninges) are susceptible to sudden jolts or bumps, triggering a reaction that is traumatic and has lasting effects.

Brain Movement

The brain is pushed against the inner walls of the skulls and can be bruised, while nerve tissue can be stretched or torn in the process. Brain cell function is impaired. Loss of consciousness is also possible.

Brain Injury

Short-term and long-term brain injury can occur with a concussion. Blood flow and oxygen delivery are lessened. Symptoms include headaches, fatigue, dizziness, loss of focus and/or reduced cognitive function as well as light sensitivity.

animation of brain for chiropractic neurology

THE FOUR TYPES OF NEUROPLASTICITY

Neuroplasticity adaptations fall into one of four categories.

Neurogenesis

Neurogenesis is the process of creating new neurons in the central parts of the brain, specifically the hippocampus and olfactory bulb. This process occurs more in the brains of younger people and slows down as they age. According to research from Dr. Maria Llorens-Martin, this process can occur in the human brain until they age into their 90s.

Synaptogenesis

Synaptogenesis is the process of creating new synapses and new neural connections. When the human brain is exposed to new environments and experiences such as seeing things that they haven’t seen before, or learning a new skill, the brain quickly gets to work creating new neural connections which results in the formation of new memories or improvement of the skill.

Long-Term Potentiation

This is the process of strengthening synapses through repeated activity such as studying or practicing. As such, it is associated with learning and memory.

Long-Term Depression

When synapses aren’t being used, they gradually weaken. This is common when people stop practicing a skill, or studying a specific subject. This type of neuroplasticity adaptation is associated with memory and learning motor skills.

HOW NEUROPLASTICITY “HEALS” THE BRAIN

When a person suffers a traumatic brain injury like a concussion, the neurons in the affected area die, and the neural pathways are no longer able to be used by the brain. They become dormant. The brain will naturally recover from the injury over time by forming new synapses and neural pathways to replace the pathways that were lost due to the neurons that died.

This natural process can take anywhere from days to months depending on the severity of the brain injury. If a brain injury is left to recover naturally, without any form of treatment, then there is a possibility that the new neural pathways that are developed can contribute to ongoing symptoms of a concussion, otherwise known as post concussion syndrome. With guided, evidence-based treatments and therapies, these potential negative effects of neuroplasticity can be avoided, and positive neuroplasticity can be promoted to develop neural pathways that reduce or eliminate the symptoms caused by a concussion.

 

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concussion diagnosis with MRI
doctor administers eye exercises during a vision therapy session

HOW OUR TREATMENTS PROMOTE POSITIVE NEUROPLASTICITY

At Broadview Spine & Health Centre, we treat the three components of post concussion syndrome and their related symptoms. These components are physiologic, vestibulo-ocular, and cervicogenic. Of these three components, the physiological and vestibulo-ocular treatments are specifically used to promote positive neuroplasticity and aid in the patient’s recovery.

Physiological Component

When a person suffers a concussion, they will generally experience symptoms including fatigue and headaches with cognitive and/or physical activity, brain fog, nausea, light and sound sensitivity, dizziness and poor concentration. All of these symptoms are caused by the damage caused to neurons.

Vestibulo-Ocular Component

The vestibulo component refers to involvement of the visual and balance system in the overall function of the brain. Concussion symptoms can include blurred or double vision, difficulty with tracking moving objects and difficulty with reading. These symptoms are often caused by damage to structures in the vestibular system, and the neural pathways that are connected to it.

To treat both of these components of a traumatic brain injury, we use a wide range of evidence-based treatments with the goal of promoting positive neuroplasticity to develop and strengthen new neural pathways quicker to alleviate the symptoms caused by the injury and get the patient back to living a normal life. Our treatments include:

Vision Therapy

After assessing how a concussion has affected a patient’s vision, we customize an eye exercise program to improve their impaired vision symptoms. These exercises help the brain practice compensating for the damaged neural pathways that are connected to vision, with the goal of developing new pathways that can help to alleviate the impaired vision.

Vestibular Rehabilitation

A patient who is experiencing vision and balance issues because of a concussion can benefit greatly from this treatment. It involves physical therapy exercises that specifically strengthen the muscles, vision, and the vestibular system to improve both vision and balance. These exercises also help with the development of new neural pathways which will help control vision and balance, helping to restore their function.

Dr. Joseph O.M. Treats A Patient With Vestibular Rehabilitation Treatment
A patient undergoing transcranial treatment at Broadview Spine & Health Centre

Transcranial Vagus Nerve Stimulation

This treatment can help treat both physiological and vestibulo-ocular symptoms of a concussion. By sending gentle pulses of electricity through the vagus nerve, we can stimulate it and any connected neural pathways located in the brain to improve vision and balance symptoms, as well as headaches and dizziness.

Head-Eye Vestibular Motion Therapy

This evidence-based treatment protocol quite unique to our clinic as we are one of the few in Canada which offer this type of treatment. Using diagnostic findings from videonystagmography and saccadometry, we are able to custom tailor an eye exercise program that will help with vision related symptoms of a concussion.

Laser Guided Proprioceptor Feedback Therapy

When a brain injury causes changes to motor skills, balance and visual processing, this treatment can help to improve and restore their balance and coordination. Using lasers attached to the patient’s body, we have them go through a progressive range of motions where the system provides a feedback response when motions cause lasers to deviate from their set path.

The Sidney Crosby Treatment

Anybody who knows Sidney Crosby also knows about his struggles with concussions over the course of his career. It was even thought at one point that he would not be able to return to play at the elite level he is known to play at. He worked with Dr. Ted Carrick, the founder of chiropractic neurology, to treat his concussion symptoms. Dr. Carrick developed a technique using balance measurements, eye-tracking, and customized exercises that sped up Sid’s recovery in the damaged areas of his brain. This allowed Crosby to return to the ice sooner than originally thought possible and not be hindered by the damage caused by his concussions. Broadview Spine & Health Clinic has adopted this treatment program because of how effective it can be for any patient, not just professional athletes.

 

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A hockey player takes a knee after suffering a concussion
doctor examines x-ray for concussion

NO “ONE SIZE FITS ALL” FOR NEUROPLASTICITY & CONCUSSION TREATMENT

When targeting positive neuroplasticity for concussion recovery, there is no single treatment that works better than others. After all, the brain is the most complicated part of the human body, and scientists are still learning more about it every day. Concussion research is also still ongoing and these types of injuries are complex in their own right. It is important for a doctor who specializes in concussion treatments to perform an assessment of the patient who is suffering from a concussion. Then, and only then, can they put forward the best combination of treatments to alleviate the symptoms of a concussion and accelerate their recovery.

Frequently asked questions

Sustaining a single concussion, in many cases, results in a straight-forward recovery with few complications. However, for those who have suffered multiple concussions, especially when the original has not fully healed, the recovery time can grow exponentially. Take care during recovery as while you might feel better, the concussion could still need time to fully heal.

  • We utilize quantifiable concussion evaluation tools
  • We measure eye movements and balance
  • We take care to ensure your recovery is objective, not subjective

 

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A major side effect from sustaining a concussion injury is cervicogenic pain or headaches, which is focused in the neck area. The challenge for doctors is neck pain does not always point to a problem within the neck, but could be a result of spine or eye misalignment.

  • Concussions cause eye misalignment, leading to head tilt
  • Neck pain is a flag for helping identify contributing issues
  • Our treatment is built to help protect your long-term recovery

A common symptom for those who have suffered concussions and experiencing symptoms of post-concussion syndrome includes fatigue. Fatigue can come from many different factors. However, concussions build fatigue symptoms on a cellular level from the damage sustained in a concussion, interrupting your body’s ability to build and use energy.

  • Fatigue from concussions is a result from calcium leaks
  • Other fatigue could stem from problems with thyroids or anemia
  • Fatigue problems can take some time to fully recover from

Post-concussion syndrome is a complex condition that requires a lot of care and time to fully recover from. You could experience significant fatigue, inability to effectively concentrate, headaches, poor balance, and loss of fine motor control. These and more are the result of concussion damage to three major areas in your body, which all require the care our clinic can provide:

  • Physical damage the cell wall of the brain
  • Damage to the motor systems of the eyes and balance
  • Cervucigenic symptoms such as pain in the neck

Broadview Health Centre offers specialized equipment and technology that helps us diagnose problems and treat them effectively in regards to concussions and other mild-traumatic brain injuries. These tools are a mix of physical tests and electrical monitors working in tandem to give evaluations of the body’s control over balance and motor control, giving us invaluable information on a patents condition by:

  • Evaluating the body’s ability to balance on flat and uneven surfaces
  • Balance when a patents head is turning in various directions
  • Building information on how a concussion effects an individual

Broadview Spine & Health Centre utilized state of the art diagnosis equipment to allow us to gain quality information on how to approach treatment to every patent’s unique symptoms. A Videonystagmography allows us to get a fine-tuned reading of eye movements on video and with graphical representation.

  • Helps us identify where damage is located in the brain
  • Helps develop a customized program for the patient
  • Provides conclusive evidence for brain injury symptoms

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