Maybe you’ve heard the buzzword Neuroplasty and wondered if it could help with chronic pain. I’m quite curious so this post is a learning experience for me too.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s capacity to continue growing and evolving in response to life experiences. Plasticity is the capacity to be shaped, molded, or altered; neuroplasticity, then, is the ability of the brain to adapt or change over time, by creating new neurons and building new networks.
The importance of neuroplasticity can’t be overstated: It means that it is possible to change dysfunctional patterns of thinking and behaving and to develop new mindsets, new memories, new skills, and new abilities.
It is obvious that we do many physical things automatically. It generally takes little conscious effort to walk, gesture, chew, or balance while riding a bicycle. We routinely accomplish relatively difficult tasks without too much thought. It is frequently not necessary to think about how to accomplish these tasks because our brains have learned and practiced these skills so well that they occur with little or no effort. In addition to physical activities, we have learned certain cognitive skills that we typically perform with minimal mental effort, such as adding simple numbers, reading, typing, and recognizing certain patterns of speech as belonging to certain dialects.
The reason we are able to accomplish these feats quickly and effortlessly is that neural networks or pathways have been formed in our brains with connections to our bodies. These pathways are very specific and unique to an individual, and they consist of thousands of brain cells devoted to these tasks. They can be very simple or quite complex. For example, most people have the experience of driving somewhere familiar and not recalling exactly how they got there. They were in autopilot mode.
What happens to these pathways in states of disease or dysfunction?
An acquaintance told me this story. He served in Vietnam in the late 1960’s and his company was ambushed. His unit sustained many injuries and some were killed. He incurred shrapnel wounds to his left leg and was eventually “medevacked” to safety. He returned home and limped on that leg with a fair amount of pain for several months. However, after rehabilitation, he recovered. Both the pain and limping resolved and he felt fine. About 20 years later, while taking a walk with his wife, he had a sudden recurrence of the old pain and limping. He mentioned this to his wife, who asked, “Did you notice that?” A helicopter was buzzing overhead. The pain was learned by the brain due to an injury and then reactivated later by a triggering stimulus.
Neural pathway pain is the cause of many disorders that will be discussed in this blog, including fibromyalgia, irritable bowel syndrome, chronic headaches and several other common conditions. Fortunately, it is very possible to reverse neural pathway pain for the same reason that it began: neuroplasticity. The brain has non-pain neural pathways to all areas of the body, which have not been forgotten, and activation of these pathways will turn off the painful pathways. I saw a woman who had pain in two areas: her wrist and her jaw. However, instead of having pain that was present on a regular basis, her pain alternated between these two spots. She would have pain in her wrist for several days and this pain would completely disappear only to be replaced by pain in the jaw; then the situation would reverse. This pattern of pain is highly suggestive of neural pathway pain. Another common pattern is for people to develop pain in one spot for several months, which disappears only to be replaced by pain in another area, and at a later date, that pain resolves leading to a different pain.
What Are Some Advantages and Disadvantages of Neuroplasty?
The advantages of neuroplasty include that, when done by experienced medical professionals, it’s a safe and effective.
Another attraction of neuroplasty? There are virtually no side effects or risks. The procedure is minimally invasive, unlike open surgery. Because the procedure is fluoroscopically- guided, the medical professional has a precise view of where to safely perform the procedure.
How Long Does Neuroplasty Recovery Take?
A big advantage to neuroplasty, unlike having major spine surgery, is that you’ll be able to return home the same day as the procedure and return to work and/or your daily routine the day after.
Typically, after the procedure the back pain relief will either disappear instantly or may resolve over a couple of weeks. You may feel some achiness as the anesthesia dissipates.
Dr. Helm notes that, “In some patients, relief may not occur initially, but can occur later, as the patient performs the neural flossing.”
Neural or “nerve” flossing consists of exercises designed to mobilize nerves and help relieve pain created by compressed or irritated nerves. The exercises help to increase range of motion, relieving pain, and minimizing nerve damage. The exercises can also improve overall flexibility and strength.
He recommends that neural flossing exercises to mechanically stretch the nerve root, “Should be done two to three times a day for several months to enhance the hydrostatic effect of the injection and to prevent recurrence of entrapment.”
After the procedure, medication may be prescribed post procedure to decrease and prevent nerve irritation.
Dr. Helm advises that, “Neuroplasty stands in a continuum, from more conservative to more invasive procedures. Generally, one would want to do neuroplasty prior to more aggressive procedures, such as surgery or spinal cord or peripheral nerve stimulation.”
Pain relief from neuroplasty can last two years or more, according to some research. All in all, neuroplasty is a tool in a spine specialist’s toolbox, but it might be the right tool for the job for you.
Neuroplasty treatment includes an injection, the good news is it’s minimally invasive. I’ve heard other chronic illness patients talk about Neuroplasty and became curious. I’ll keep you updated as I learn more. It’s great news that the treatments can last two years! Two years of relief sounds impossible but it’s not.
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