Why do we need maps ?
The body is a complicated structure compromising of countless nerve endings and hundreds of bones, muscles, ligaments, tendons and joints. So how do we organise movement of multiple parts, over and over again, in synchrony, all at once? When you think about it, even going for a simple stroll is a mind boggling process of bending knees and ankles, rotating the torso, flexing elbow joints and swinging hips.
So how do we do it? If given the task of coordinating all these processes in synchrony, our brains would no doubt fail like an attempt at juggling 20 balls at once!
But for some reason we do it with ease – we take for granted that somewhere in the background, there’s some automatic function that takes care of movements while we can focus on other things, like planning where we would like to walk to, how we will navigate to get there and what will happen when we arrive.
Well, part of the answer to how it happens “automatically” is via the MAPSn in our brain. We have many maps in our brain that are organised with respect to our body parts. This enables our automatic parts of the brain to have continuous, real time feedback on how our trunk and limbs are positioned where we are moving to and how fast or slow it’s all happening.
Where are these map?
Simply put, there’s a lot of maps in many different places! There’s maps for our eyes and ears to help recognise which direction light and sound comes from, and there’s maps of our body, illustrating just where everything is in relation to everything else. And there is of course maps in our cerebellum, the coordination centre of the brain, where the automated process of synchronising muscles and joints together to form a movement requires a map of where things are. Without these maps, our poor brains would have to pay ATTENTION to each and every movement of every muscle and every joint. A process that would be so complex and stressful that we’d be lucky to make it out of bed and to the shower every day, let alone with the ability to plan what we’re having for lunch.
What happens when our maps become blurry?
The problem is when our maps become blurry! Like when our crisp full HD picture becomes something more akin to a budget cam corder picture quality. When this happens, our movement which relies on these crisp map pictures, isn’t so good. We start becoming less synergistic, we move to and from slightly inaccurate coordinates. We don’t PRECISELY know where we are in relation to other things, and where things are in relation to us.
Generally we become clumsy… and more clumsiness really means more chance of injury as we move inefficiently and inaccurately through our world.
So, what could make a map blurry?
Well, anything that affects the normal input of information coming from the receptor level to the brain OR anything that affects the function of the map on the brain itself (eg concussion, stroke, traumatic brain injury).
Lets look at some things that might blur our maps:
- Scar tissues
- Lack of stimulus from lack of movement
- Tattoos (a form of scar)
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Obstructions to nerves e.g spinal level nerve impingements
And how do we keep our maps clear?
The most important way to keep our maps clear is by creating a stimulus to promote connections from receptors to brain. This could be done by touch, by stretch, by activation of muscles or even by thought! Above all, the easiest way to stay in touch with your body parts is, maybe unsurprisingly, via MOVEMENT.
When we lose movement (for example with immobilisation in a plaster, or simply with disuse) we lose the input to the brain and the brain then re-organises the map to make use of the dis-used part of the body. The brain will literally take over the disused part of the brain and use it for another “intact” body part. In this case, the unfortunate body part becomes hard to “feel”. And what we can’t feel well, we can’t move well.
So, in summary, move it or lose it happens not only at the level of the muscle but also at the level of the brain. To keep a clear picture of your map, ensure that you have a wide VARIETY of movements, which includes activation of ALL the muscles, and MOVEMENTS of as many joints as you can, in all the available directions it will go. The body areas that you move the most you feel the most, whereas the places you neglect to move end up becoming very hard to control. A lack of control and lack of movement accuracy and precision is a sure risk for injury and sub-optimal performance. Maybe that’s why they say “Movement is the language of the brain!”.
With the brain in mind,
Neuro Rehab and Performance