Neuromovement® and tbi/stroke

 
 
Tessa Thompson, a practitioner based in Indiana, works with Nadia in St. Louis.

Tessa Thompson, a practitioner based in Indiana, works with Nadia in St. Louis.

A person has a stroke, or suffers another form of serious brain injury. How can we best help them regain function? To answer that question, we first have to understand how the brain operates when it is functioning well. 

How does the brain perform the functions of our daily life?

 Whether it's eating, sitting, standing, or walking the brain organizes an incredible amount of information to do even the most basic tasks.  A “simple” action like standing up requires the contraction and release of multiple groups of muscles with precise timing to perform the intended action. It’s a symphony of movement organized by the brain, made possible only because of the incredible density of neural connections, created primarily in childhood. 

How are neural connections formed?

The neural connections needed to perform these functions of movement, cognition, and speech do not come prepackaged in the brain. They are formed by experience over a person’s lifetime, though much of the work is done in the first few years of life. Every experience a baby has - lifting an arm, kicking a leg, turning towards a sound - gives the brain information that allows it to create and further refine the neural map representing the different parts of the body and how those parts relate to one another. The more detailed that map becomes, the more complex the functions that the brain can perform. 

How does brain injury or stroke affect those neural connections?

 When there is a brain insult due to injury or stroke, neural connections are often damaged and/or lost. The neural map that the brain relied on to formulate and execute movement is now incomplete. This is why a stroke survivor might remember moving their arm but not be able to do the movement easily or even at all - some of the “pieces” involved in performing that action are missing.  

How can new neural connections be formed?

 Based on our current understanding of the science of neuroplasticity, we know that at any point in a person’s life new neural connections can be made. Neural connections that are lost due to injury have the potential to be mapped again.  The process of doing so is the same as it was infancy - the brain’s attention to the experience of slow, gentle, and varied movement. 

A NeuroMovement® practitioner looks at movement from the perspective of the brain.  The practitioner is trained in detecting possible holes in the neural map and facilitating new movement possibilities to generate new neural connections.  Through careful observation, the practitioner determines what distinctions and relationships have been affected or lost, and uses gentle and varied movement to give the brain the information it needs to re-create those connections.

What sets NeuroMovement® apart from other interventions is the level of detail with which the practitioner operates. For example, exercises such as simply lifting a stroke-affected arm again and again in an attempt to regain function are not going to give the brain new or useful information - the movement is too complex, and there are too many potential missing connections. A practitioner focuses on smaller details - for example, how does the shoulder move relative to the ribs? Does the pelvis automatically shift weight to maintain balance as the arm is moved away from the body? - and works to form those individual connections. When those holes are “filled in”, the more complex action of lifting an arm becomes much easier. It is in this way that the practitioner guides the student through forming an increasing number of neural connections, over time allowing for easier movement at a greater degree of complexity and increased level of functioning.