Fairly recently, researchers have discovered that the human brain has the ability to form new neural pathways.
This opens the door to an expansive new treatment opportunity for chiropractors—the brain-injured patient.
The brain is the most complex and mysterious organ in the human body. Historically, neuroscientists believed that the human brain’s structure and functions were essentially “fixed” or unchangeable by the ages of 17 to 19.
In addition, it was believed that the brain was incapable of generating new cells. Therefore, it was concluded that the brain was incapable of healing once it had been damaged, either by injury or by disease. Brain injuries caused by concussions and blows to the head as well as the cognitive degeneration caused by Alzheimer’s, strokes, or tumors, were considered irreversible conditions that no amount of treatment would ever be able to fully repair.
But discoveries since the 1970s—many in just the last two decades—have caused the scientific world to change its thinking about the capabilities of the human brain, about how it works and, even more important, about how it heals. This new view of the brain can be encapsulated into one word: neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity: A new opportunity
Neuroplasticity (also called “brain plasticity”) can be defined as the brain’s ability to change, remodel and reorganize for the purpose of adapting to new situations. Despite the fact that the concept of neuroplasticity is relatively new, it is one of the most important discoveries in neuroscience.”1
This discovery means that the brain is resilient, able to reorganize itself both structurally and functionally by forming new neural connections. Neural networks come and go. Synapses (the connections between neurons) and neural pathways are continually altered and fine-tuned, especially in response to new information generated by learning, life experiences, practicing a skill, exercising, and environmental changes.
Neuroplasticity can also be triggered by physical trauma and injury. It is an adaptive mechanism that allows the nerve cells in the brain to compensate for damage and loss of function by “reorganizing and forming new connections between intact neurons. For example, although each brain hemisphere has its own tasks, if one brain hemisphere is damaged, the intact hemisphere can sometimes take over some of the functions of the damaged one.”2
In essence, neuroscience now views the brain and its neural circuits as malleable and capable of changing throughout the course of a lifetime. This new understanding of the brain offers real hope for anyone with any type of brain injury—and brings exciting new opportunities for the chiropractic community.
Helping the brain heal
Of course, healing the brain involves a bit more than healing a broken bone. In addition to the physical component of healing, there are also emotional, psychological, and lifestyle components to be addressed. And not all patients respond equally to every aspect of a brain treatment program.
But overall, a multidisciplinary approach seems to be the best way to assist the brain to perform its own internal healing. And a multidisciplinary approach is well-suited to the chiropractic industry, many aspects of which, such as nutritional, dietary and exercise counseling, are already incorporated as standard protocols in many clinics.
At present, the most commonly used modalities to repair the brain are: medications, injections, hyperbaric treatment, cognitive therapy, and physical therapy to relearn motor and language skills. But new treatment options are also proving effective. Recent studies have found that light therapy for patients suffering from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), strokes, or concussions can help the brain regain normal blood flow, improving cognitive function.
Neurofeedback (a type of biofeedback) has also shown promise in the treatment of brain damage from stroke, TBIs, and other physical injuries as well as other brain conditions like epilepsy, Asperger syndrome and ADHD. And when these technologies are combined with other healing modalities, as well as a healthy diet, nutritional support, and physical exercise, amazing recoveries can happen. Thus, offering brain support and recovery treatment options for patients with brain injuries can potentially help improve patient results, expand their client base, and consequently increase income.
The direct correlation between quality of life and brain function seems indisputable. A healthy and well-functioning brain supports a well-balanced, productive and happy life. Whenever a chiropractor can help a patient’s brain heal from an injury, disease, or disorder, they also heal and fix a life, which in many cases extends to fixing a family unit, because a loved one has psychologically come back and is functional once again.
As new discoveries and advances in treatment for brain injuries continue to be made, the chiropractic community, in its dedication to the optimization of patient health and unwavering belief in the body’s innate recuperative powers, will naturally embrace the opportunity to help patients with brain injuries of all types. It’s a win-win for both patient and chiropractor, because the brain can heal.
David Christenson is a health care consultant and the founder of Neurocare Systems, bringing state-of-the-art, medical-grade LED light therapy equipment to medical practices. He has also formulated his own product line of natural adaptogenic and neurological support formulations. He can be contacted at 800-900-4045 or through neurocaresystems.com.
1 Demarin V, Morovic S, Béné R. Neuroplasticity. Periodicum Biologorum. 2014;116(2):209-211.
2 Liou, S. Neuroplasticity. Stanford.edu. http:// web.stanford.edu/group/hopes/cgi-bin/hopes_ test/neuroplasticity. Published June 2010. Accessed August 2018.