Health and wellness are about function, not just of one system but of the whole body. Nothing happens in isolation, so when one area of the body is affected it will have consequences in other areas. Our nervous system allows us to coordinate every aspect of bodily function so that we can live life to the best of our ability.
How do we experience life? Is it the things we do, the people we meet and interact with, is it the things we learn? It is truly all these things and more. Neurologically we experience the world and learn from it through a wide array of senses.
In school we were taught there are 5 senses of the body, but we actually have more than this. And combined they allow us to experience the world around us and continually refine our ability to do so.
Every millisecond of every day our nervous system gathers information from the world around us, what we are doing, how we are positioned, what is going on inside of us. We then process or integrate this information and from there we have a response or an output.
All this information needs to be processed, and done so quickly so we can continue to go about our lives without much conscious awareness. We do this by taking all the new information and comparing it. We compare it to a predicted view of the environment and our actions in it. This prediction is based upon every sensory and life experience we have had since our conception/birth/development up until now. With this comparison we ask a simple question of does it match? If it does then the information is discarded, if it doesn’t match then we adapt to it, and refine our output. This output is called a motor response and can be a movement, a resistance to movement, an inhibition of movement, it can be a thought or even an inhibition of thought, an emotion or inhibition of emotion, and it can be an autonomic function. No matter what the response we have, we then gather information again about whether or not this response was appropriate and accurate, and the cycle continues.
Through this process we shape and refine our understanding of the world around us, and how we should respond and experience it.
Understanding ourselves in space, balance, and how we move
In my practice and any time I examine someone in the back of my mind I’m thinking about how well the brain is processing information, and understanding ourselves and the environment around us. One of the primary ways we do this is through the sensory systems that control our balance.
Balance control is greater than our ability not to fall over, and in fact is comprised of 3 separate but wide spread interconnected systems that provides us with a sense of ourselves. Briefly I want to discuss these 3 systems, how they relate, and what it means for our ability to experience life.
The first is our visual system – our eyes. This is not just about our ability to see but also in how they move. Different eye movements relate to different brain areas that help our ability to focus, plan, search, track, and bring our attention to things around us. It also provides visual feedback for how well our body moves and the precision in which we do so.
The second is our vestibular system. Our vestibular system is our primary balance center in our inner ear. It is intricately linked to our other two systems. It gives us information about how our head and neck are moving, as well as allows us to see clearly while moving. Even much more profound is that it detects the only constant force in our environment and helps control our posture. That force is gravity. Our ability to respond to gravity is hugely critical to brain development, and function. We notice that as a baby begins to slowly move from lying on its back to rolling over, to standing, to walking, that their brains develop along side it. As they start walking they start talking, as their movements are refined and their posture becomes more upright, their high cognitive functions develop and their personality forms.
The third system that I’ve already hinted at is our somatosensory system. This system is made up of all the receptors in our skin, our muscles and joints, that tell us primarily where we are in space and our sense of touch. It provides us a understanding that our arm is our arm, its not someone else’s, how it moves, how it is positioned, and how it relates to the rest of our body.
Combined these systems control our balance, our understanding of our selves, controls our posture, and provide information about how we move throughout our environment.
The wonderful way the nervous system works is that there our redundancies innately woven in. These three systems provide semi redundant information, so that when the information we process doesn’t match our expected environmental experience, or when one of the systems isn’t functioning up to par with the other two, the other two are designed to pick up the slack.
What this means for us, our lives, our sensory experience is that we can utilize one area of the nervous system to improve/have an impact on another. The nervous system has these redundancies all over it, bringing back one of the biggest points from my last article is that nothing works in isolation.
This is why when people undergo chiropractic care it can have a positive impact on various aspects of their overall movement, posture, growth and development, sense of stability, mood, processing of what our body tells us and how we interact with the world we live in. Our ability to heal from injury is heavily reliant on this system of information processing recovering, stabilizing, and getting stronger.
by Nate Bogedain DC M.Sc
Nate is a chiropractor with a background in functional neurology and sports medicine. He has been helping people optimize their health and neuromusculoskeletal system since 2014