Neuroplasticity is well defined in research and science, but the actual effects of neuroplasticity in the clinic can make it feel like magic. Neuroplasticity is defined by the brain cells ability to grow and make new synaptic connections. This allows the brain to "rewire" itself following an injury or a new exposure. In the clinic, neuroplasticity allows people to progress from using a walker to walking independently, requiring a driver to driving themselves on a cross country road-trip, or feeling fearful of crowds to attending a big festival.
Physical therapy (PT), sometimes referred to a vestibular rehabilitation therapy (VRT), plays a big role in promoting neuroplasticity following injuries like concussion (mTBI), spinal cord injury or stroke. Although PT exercises can be strange, difficult, or boring, they are designed to challenge the brain in a methodical way to encourage neuroplasticity. The best PT program for neuroplasticity include exercise challenges that are targeted at your specific deficits and geared towards your desired goals.
The brain and body respond to the demands that are placed on it; if there is no challenge to the system, neuroplasticity won't occur. PT exercises are specific to your neuroplasticity needs. This is similar to running; if you don't run, you won't get better at running. Or when learning a new language, if no time is spent reading or speaking the new language, it is likely the language won't be learned well. Just like running and learning a new language, promoting neuroplasticity takes time, patience, and a lot of effort.
Another key component of neuroplasticity is doing PT exercises daily, and often multiple times a day. The typical prescription involves 2-5 individualized exercises performed 3-5 times per day for several weeks. Each week, exercises may be altered based on the response to the exercises. The exercises are alerted based on the response and tolerance to each exercise. Communication about symptoms, ease, and ability to perform at the prescribed intensity will all determine how PT exercises are progressed or changed.
Examples of Physical Therapy/Vestibular Rehabilitation Therapy Exercises
Walking with head turns
Multi-tasking with the addition of cognitive tasks during exercises
Graded exposure to challenging environments
There is nothing "magic" about these exercises. But when used in the correct combination, with the ideal dosage, and excellent compliance to the program, the results can feel very magically. The ability for our brain and bodies to heal, learn new things, and adapt is endless.
To learn more about additional research being done to increase neuroplasticity: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK326735/
Want to see how you use neuroplasticity to help you heal? Schedule an appointment here. In-person and mobile appointments available in Central Denver, Colorado. Virtual visits available nationwide and internationally.
Dr Jessica Klain PT, DPT, COMT, CSCS, OCS, CNPT
Board Certified Orthopedic Clinical Specialist (OCS)
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS)
Certified Orthopedic Manual Therapist (COMT)
Certified Nutritional Physical Therapist (CNPT)
Certified Vestibular Specialist
Certified Concussion Specialist
Trigger Point Dry Needling Certified, Level 1&2
Certified Yoga Teacher
University of Florida, Doctorate in Physical Therapy (2009)
The Ohio State University, Bachelor of Science in Biology (2006)