Friday, October 30, 2020

Get better movement without moving a muscle

Let me come straight to the point: There  are three ways to drive changes in your brain to help you move better. All three effect very similar parts of the brain. And here is something that warms my lazy heart: Two of them you don't have to move a muscle!

The image above is from researchers Robert M Hardwick, Svenja Caspers, Simon B Eickhoff, and Stephan P Swinnen. (Reference)

What moves your body? It always starts with the brain!

We all know that muscles move us. But the brain moves muscles. This  idea is lost on a lot of clinicians in rehab. They'll talk about muscle strength, range of motion, quality of movement, etc. etc. etc., but not talk about the brain. Why don't they talk about it? They can't see it. They can't measure it. And really, they can't help it. 

How do you get the brain to change to move better?

There's a bunch of ways to get the brain to rewire for better movement. 

1: Move. This is called repetitive practice. "We are we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit.” (Will Durant, paraphrasing Aristotle). The more you do a movement repetitively, the more the part of the brain that controls that movement is activated.* Note: No one else can do if for you, it has to be you doing the work. Musicians know it, athletes know it, dancers know it, martial artists know it, and now you know! More info here

2: Imagine a movementThis is called mental imagery, or mental practice. If you imagine doing a movement the way you did it prior to your brain injury, the part of the brain that controls that movement is activated.* More info here. 

3: Watch someone else do the movement. This is called action observationIf you watch someone do a movement, the part of the brain that you use to do that movement is activated.Find instructions here

About this image:

This three-pane image above shows the parts of the brain activated during movement, action observation, and mental practice. 

There are differences. For instance, in action observation the part of the brain that is used for vision is activated because the observer is seeing someone else do the movement. But overall, there is a lot of overlay between the three activities!

*All three of these techniques will activate movement centers in the brain. If they are activated enough, that part of the brain gets bigger. How much is enough? I'll argue at least 1200 repetitions in a single-joint movement. All three also add more blood vessels, and more connections in the brain. 

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