Functional Neurology – What is it and how does it benefit health?

Neurology – the word itself can make one’s head spin! As some of you know, I’ve embarked on a journey into the depth of how the nervous system works. To explain a little bit how this added knowledge affects my work withd your animals I thought I’d take Emma to be my example.

Emma is a 16 year old female dachshund who had surgery for a herniated disk between the first and second lumbar vertebrae several years ago. Since then, her care givers have done everything possible to rehabilitate her with exercises, good nutrition, etc. Aside from her wobbly way of moving her hind legs, she is very mobile and still chases cats and dogs to maintain order in her reign.

Since her surgery she doesn’t get a very strong signal to her anus letting her know that she needs to eliminate some feces. Especially when she’s asleep accidents happen.

During her gait analysis, Emma’s her rear end was held to the left. Her left hind leg was significantly weaker than the right hind with poorly developed muscles. When folding her left hind paw over, she left her foot knuckled over. She either couldn’t feel her foot or was unable to change its position due to weak muscles. As I was trying to flex this same leg it remained rigid, meaning that the tone in her muscles didn’t allow it to bend.

On the day of the exam Emma’s back was hunched up in the thoraco-lumbar region. Apparently, she had not been eating with much gusto lately. A hiatal hernia syndrome was suspected, in which for some reason the stomach was partially raising up through the diaphragm. This is a very common syndrome caused by many different imbalances.

With injury to the spinal cord, there will always be some degree of pathology, meaning actual tissue damage. Functional neurology won’t fix that, but it will target specific areas of the nervous system to maximize the function of what’s left. Functional neurology concerns itself with optimization of the nervous system by addressing sub-optimally functioning areas. What does that look like?

Combining a thorough neurologic exam with the symptoms presented, it seemed that Emma’s left brain (cerebrum) wasn’t functioning as well as it could, likely, because it wasn’t being stimulated enough (“you snooze – you lose”).

To fix this weakness of her left brain, Emma was adjusted chiropractically in a very specific manner – namely only on the right side of her body. The sensory information from the right side of the body ends up in the contralateral cerebral hemisphere. By stimulating her left side of the brain its neurons will send a stronger response back to the body including her weaker left hind leg extensor muscles.

Stimulating the brain has an added benefit, because it dampens the sympathetic (fight of flight) response in the body. In Emma’s case, this advantage proved beneficial for her hiatal hernia syndrome, because it promoted better gastro-intestinal function.

Immediately after her treatment, Emma was able to uncurl her left hind paw and flex the leg easily. She moved in a straight manner, lifting up her left hind and placing it with more control.

To further the benefits gained through the treatment, we sent Emma’s caregivers home with specific exercises to help strengthen her left brain.

At her next visit 2 weeks later, the report was that Emma had asked to go out once just the day before. She wasn’t quite able to make it all the way outside before defecating, but it is a good sign of progress. Her appetite was back to normal and she was able to maintain her adjustments. The muscles of her left hind leg were almost the same size as the other side.

Emma’s situation is a wonderful case to illustrate what functional neurology is about. We all have some pools of neurons not firing as much as they should, consequently reducing the functionality of some part(s) of our bodies. This deficit can have many outward signs. One of the biggest is balance or the lack thereof. We can all stand on one leg with our eyes closed and have an easier time on one side and a harder time on the other.

If we were to lie on our sofa all day, this wouldn’t be too much of a problem, unless of course we fall off, but for any individual who moves and is exposed to gravity, balance is extremely important. Without it we become prone to accidents or over time our joints become arthritic, because an imbalance in muscle tone kept them misaligned.

Thus, maintaining a well-functioning nervous system is essential to the health of the entire body. With functional neurology this maintenance is very specific. We diagnose the area(s) of the nervous system that aren’t functioning as well and stimulate that area to function as it should.

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