Ballerina brain holds secret to balance

September 28, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Research, Spinewave Bulletin 

ballerina vertigo chiropractic dizzinessIn patients with vertigo or dizziness, we use spinning and unique tests to assess how the cerebellum is working – the area of your brain responsible for perceiving balance and position sense. Specific chiropractic adjustments improve cerebellar function.

Years of training cause structural changes in a ballet dancer’s brain that help them stay balanced in the pirouette, suggests a new study.

The finding, reported in the journal Cerebral Cortex, may aid the treatment of chronic dizziness.

Brain scans of professional female ballet dancers revealed differences from other people in two parts of the brain: one that processes input from the balancing organs in the inner ear, and another responsible for the perception of dizziness.

Most people, after turning around rapidly, feel dizzy for a period thereafter. This is because of the fluid-filled chambers of the ear’s balance organs, which sense the rotation of the head through tiny hairs that perceive the fluid swishing about. The fluid continues to move for a while after the spin, which creates the perception that one is moving when still, hence the dizziness.

Ballet dancers can perform multiple pirouettes with little or no feeling of dizziness – a feat that has long puzzled researchers. The pirouette sees a dancer execute one or more full-body turns on the toe or ball of one foot.

“Ballet dancers seem to be able to train themselves not to get dizzy, so we wondered whether we could use the same principles to help our patients,” says Dr Barry Seemungal from the Department of Medicine at Imperial College London.

For the study, Seemungal and colleagues spun 29 ballerinas around in a rotating chair in a dark room, and did the same with 20 female rowers of similar age and fitness levels. The women were asked to turn a lever on a small wheel attached to their chair in rhythm with the spinning sensation they experienced after the chair was brought to a halt.

For the dancers, the perception of spinning lasted for a “significantly” shorter period.

The researchers also looked at the women’s brains with MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans. They found that the part of the cerebellum that processes the signal from the balancing organs, was smaller in the dancers. The cerebellum is the part of the brain that governs body movement.

“It’s not useful for a ballet dancer to feel dizzy or off balance,” says Seemungal. “Their brains adapt over years of training to suppress that input, allowing them to continue dancing after spinning around in a pirouette and complete a performance without losing their balance. If we can target that same brain area or monitor it in patients with chronic dizziness, we can begin to understand how to treat them better.”

About one in four people suffer chronic dizziness at some time in their lives.

Reference: The Neuroanatomical Correlates of Training-Related Perceptuo-Reflex Uncoupling in Dancers. Cerebral Cortex (2013) doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht266

Pain in the Brain

September 16, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Research, Spinewave Bulletin 

top_down_brain“Where it is, it ain’t.”

A famous expression by the developer of motion palpation, Belgian chiropractor Henri Gillet, referring to the complexity of pain.

I don’t have enough good things to say about this lecture below. Not only because it discusses concepts central to my Master’s study on mindfulness and nociception (the ability to feel pain), but the idea that for clinicians dealing with pain and any chronic or dysmorphic problem, you need to consider disruptions in the brain’s ability to process incoming information – and how to deal with it.

The brain decides whether something is painful or not. Pain is not always where the problem is. For example: I saw a client last week with years of chronic low back pain. After a specific adjustment to C2, he has had no pain. A perfect example of pain modulation from the brain down. For more on this, read Tricky Concepts in Pain.

Disrupted Sleep

September 9, 2013 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Case of the month, Cases, Spinewave Bulletin, Symptoms 

disrupted sleep chiropracticAwaking refreshed and revitalized – Craig.

Sleep loss affects the stress systems in our bodies and is important because these systems enable us to deal with everyday challenges. The two stress systems are the autonomic nervous system and the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, as they both relate to the adrenal glands.

These two systems together impact our overall health and how we respond to stress. They are responsible for energy balance, delivery of fuel and oxygen to all parts of the body and muscles, and appropriate balance of sugars and hormones.

Lack of sleep, which can be cumulative over a long period of time, puts the body into a subconscious state of stress. This makes one more prone to sickness, chronic fatigue, pain, cardiovascular problems like high blood pressure, mental health problems like depression or anxiety, and even changes in brain plasticity and ageing1.

Because disrupted sleep affects the autonomic nervous system (one of the stress systems), it alters pain perception. People become more sensitive to pain2. Why this occurs is because the main nerve cell bodies associated with the autonomic nervous system reside in the brainstem, and the brainstem is responsible for processing sleep. Lack of sleep disrupts the way the brainstem works and alters feel-good chemical outflow like serotonin, as well as increasing inflammation. Reduced serotonin and increased inflammation is what can lead to depression and why people feel miserable when they’re tired. Antidepressants might be prescribed in this situation but are not a sustainable solution.when-falling-asleep-feels-easiest

Sleep has a mild suppressive effect on the body’s stress systems. Disrupted sleep elevates the activity of these systems and if sleep deprivation is accrued over time, stress levels don’t actually return to baseline: Each day they build up, making health problems worse.

People commonly associate lack of sleep with emotional change, however, don’t see the underlying changes to the autonomic nervous system and hormonal systems.

Most of the phenomenal changes seen in clinical chiropractic practice are due to the effects chiropractic has on the autonomic nervous system3,4,5. Many people are not aware they even have an autonomic nervous system, but if you can measure it, you can change it. Normalising the stress systems through specific adjustments to the spine helps people sleep better and reduce overall pain sensitivity ■ Read more

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