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The brain communicates like a complex, interstate highway system. When the brain wants to make a decision or take action, signals travel through this network like messenger cars carrying instructions.
Just like travel in real life, the shorter and more efficient the brain’s highway system is between regions, the better and faster communication happens.
One of the most incredible facts about the brain is its ability to reshape this highway network, also known as neuroplasticity. That’s when the brain makes adaptive changes to itself (structural and functional) in response to intrinsic or external stimuli.
Beyond the technical definition, it’s something we experience every day and is basic enough in its application- if you order food at a restaurant and it’s bad, your brain knows not to go back!
In order to get a broader understanding of how neuroplasticity works in sports and training, it’s easiest to understand it in the context of injuries.
Neuro Rehab & Injury Recovery
Neuroplasticity was originally researched in relation to brain injuries, and is what’s allowed for the development of neuro rehabilitation.
When an injury to the brain occurs, like a stroke or concussion, picture a traffic jam in the highway system. With the existing path blocked due to the injury, the brain will naturally create a detour around the damaged area, allowing operations to continue. The tradeoff is that it uses a slower and less efficient route.
This automatic rewiring is an incredible adaptation of the brain, but even after the brain heals the damage to that highway network, the brain will not return to using the original, better communication path.
By now, the brain doesn’t care that it’s less efficient, it sticks to the working path that it reformed after the injury.
Using the right exercises and techniques, neuroplasticity can be used like Waze or Google Maps, creating the quickest and most efficient path to navigate that highway system. That’s how a medical professional can rehabilitate the brain to use faster routes, like it did prior to injury.
Practice Makes… Better
That’s how neuro rehab works, but even for a healthy individual, there’s no such thing as a perfect brain. Neuro training takes the same principles and offers the potential to optimize the communication networks within the brain.
A shorter and more efficient pathway means increasing the speed and efficiency in which you make decisions and take action. For an athlete, that can provide a competitive edge versus their peers.
There are different forms of neuro training (that we’ll cover in future newsletters), but all of them operate around this same principle of training and changing the brain pathways to respond faster and more efficiently.
Whether the goal is to recover an injured patient to normal, or train an athlete to respond more efficiently, the basic principles of neuro training are the same. Optimizing communication between different parts of the brain will result in faster, more efficient decisions and actions.
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