Can the Brain Heal?

6 weeks ago, Nate started working with me.

6 weeks ago, Nate had great difficulty just hinging at the hips to pick up a kettlebell.

Today, he nailed 3 sets of squats to a box with really strong, solid form.

Without the Bioness stimulation unit that usually assists his left leg – he didn’t have it today!

When Nate’s mom brought him to me, I told her I believe in the ability of the brain to find ways to create patterns for movement.

Even when there is a Traumatic Brain Injury involved.

So I pushed Nate. Sled pushes. Step-ups. RDL’s. Getting on and off the floor. Lots of things he “shouldn’t be able to do.

His brain keeps finding ways to get his body to respond. Sometimes better than we expect.

The brain is an amazing organ, capable of far more than we can possibly fathom, even with advancing science.

Is Nate’s brain re-wiring? Maybe.

We used to think that once the human brain had reached it’s maturity, no new neural cells would be created.

We thought the brain, if injured, wouldn’t heal the neurons and other cells involved in the injury.

We believed that an slow, inevitable decline in the number of brain cells and neurons we have was a given.

In other words, we used to believe that once the brain had matured, it was all downhill from there, and if there was an injury, you were, well, screwed.

But recent research has found that humans can experience neuronal regeneration in a variety of types and situations. One study specifically said “During development both the peripheral nervous system and the central nervous system (CNS: brain and spinal cord) are very plastic and can adapt well to nerve fibre damage.” (1)

In 2007, scientists writing in Topics in Tissue Engineering noted that axonal cells in both the Central Nervous System (brain, brain stem and spinal cord – CNS) and Peripheral Nervous System (peripheral nerves – PNS) could be stimulated to repair when exposed to Schwann cells (principal glial cells in the PNS,) neurotrophic factor or even genetically modified compounds to reduce the mature human brain’s naturally growth-suppressant environment. (2)

Another study found that Schwann cells could enter the brain stem through peripheral tissue insertions (PTI’s,) leading to the axonal regeneration in the brain stem. This resulted in what the researchers called the “first demonstration of spontaneous functional regeneration of sensory axons into the adult CNS.” (3)

Still another study noted that in patients with Huntington’s disease, the brain regenerated new neuronal cells in response to brain damage which occurred when old cells died. The author of the study, Richard Faull, PhD, Co-Director of the University of Auckland Neurodegenerative Diseases of the Brain Section, said of the finding  “This is evidence that the brain may attempt to repair itself in response to cell loss. We now need to identify which intracellular and extracellular factors stimulate or regulate this response in order to enhance the endogenous neural repair. We also need to determine whether these newly generated cells form functional connections and have the potential to integrate into the existing circuitry of the [adult human] brain.” (4)

And the research continues, with ever-more encouraging results! The human brain is much like the universe itself. Vast, amazing and with an unimaginable number of connections, variables and surprises.

And we’ve only mapped a tiny fraction of it!

As for Nate and I, we’ll keep challenging it and see what amazing things happen!

Next up on our challenge list: Single Leg Stances.

 

 

 

  1. Schwab, Martin E, and Buchli, Anita D(Jun 2012) Regeneration of Functional Neuronal Connections After Injury in the Central and Peripheral Nervous System. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0003384.pub2]
  2. Fibronectin, Collagen, Fibrin – Components of Extra-Cellular Matrix for Nerve Regeneration. A. Alovskaya, et al., Topics in Tissue Engineering, Vol.3, 2007
  3. Spontaneous Functional Viscerosensory Regeneration into the Adult Brainstem, Matt S. Ramer,
  4. Increased cell proliferation and neurogenesis in the adult human Huntington’s disease brain,  Maurice A. Curtis, Ellen B. Penney, Andree G. Pearson, Willeke M. C. van Roon-Mom, Niqi J. Butterworth, Michael Dragunow, Bronwen Connor, Richard L. M. Faull,
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