You might have already heard “c’est en forgeant qu’on devient forgeron” or as we say in English : “Practice makes perfect”. Well, let me give you the facts that support this popular adage.
Also called neuronal or cerebral plasticity, neuroplasticity is a scientific concept describing the property of the structures and functions of the nervous system (nerves and brain) to be able to adapt, in response to the environment, to the tasks to be performed, etc.(1) It includes the following phenomena:
- Neurogenesis: the process by which a brain stem cell duplicates itself to form a new neuron. We used to believe that this phenomenon stopped with the end of childhood. There is evidence that neurogenesis occurs in the human adult, but its extent remains to be established. (5-6)
- Neuron morphology changes: adding or removing branches creating connections from one neuron to another.
- Changes in the number and quality of contacts between neurons: optimizes communication between 2 neurons. It is to the brain what bandwidth is to the Internet.
In short, neuroplasticity is the process by which neurons can be created, reorganize themselves and improve the efficiency of communication between them. It occurs every time we learn something new, regardless of the field, be it academic, creative or motor.
Let’s compare the brain to the road system of a big city. Each section between two street corners is a neuron and each intersection a point of connection between these neurons (synapse). Remembering information or a way of doing things would be like walking a route. Whether it is learning a multiplication table, a dance movement or a new language, each one is a different itinerary (learning), which will be followed with increasing ease with each repetition.
Let’s imagine having to go to a new place of work. At the beginning we will have to look at a map before leaving, take note of the key points and pay attention to the street names (or use a navigation service, but it implies much less neuroplasticity). With each reiteration, the execution will become more refined, we’ll know when to keep left to turn, or find shortcuts, and then the level of concentration required will decrease until eventually our attention during the trip is focused on the evening meal.
If we take the analogy even further, Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) would be like taking a cab. At the beginning, there is an external help to reach the destination, then eventually, by being attentive to the route, it might be possible for you to travel it independently.
Applications in rehabilitation
“When the brain is damaged, there is an adaptive functional reorganization of the brain: compensatory and adaptive strategies are put in place in parallel with substitution (activation of areas initially not involved in the function). These strategies are the basis of rehabilitation through movement”. (2, 3)
“This adaptive potential of the nervous system allows the brain to recover from disorders or lesions and can also reduce the effects of structural alterations caused by pathologies such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, cognitive deterioration (concussions), Alzheimer’s disease, dyslexia, ADD, etc.”. (4)
This is why neuroplasticity is the cornerstone of Neuro-concept’s approach to rehabilitation. We can help you use a path again or find or chart new paths; neural plasticity is stimulated by our treatments that focus on repeating functional tasks, whether with functional electrical stimulation or the use of technology, or by more conventional treatments.
1 Éloi, GAGNON, « La neuroplasticité au service de l’apprentissage », Vivre le primaire, Automne 2019, p 68-69, https://aqep.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/La-neuroplasticite-au-service-de-lapprentissage.pdf, accessed October 10, 2020.
2 Joannie, ROBERGE, « Cours 4 – Sclérose en plaque », cours Rééducation en Neurologie, Collège Ellis, Campus de Longueuil, Fall 2019.
3 Anne, DE MORAND, Pratique de la rééducation neurologique, Issy-les-moulineaux, Elsevier-Masson, 2014, page VII.
4 cognifit.com, « Plasticité neuronale », accessed October 10, 2020.
5 Kempermann G and al. Human Adult Neurogenesis: Evidence and Remaining Questions., NCBI National Center for Biotechnology Information, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6035081/, accessed October 12, 2020.
6 Boldrini M and al. Human Hippocampal Neurogenesis Persists throughout Aging., NCBI National Center for Biotechnology Information, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5957089/, accessed October 12, 2020.