A friend of mine was writing an article on rodeo and head injuries this week and we spent some time chatting about concussions. It piqued my interest, so I spent a few minutes reading up on the sport. I love rodeos and have always thought the cowboys were crazy, but now I know they really are crazy…especially the ones who don’t wear helmets. Eeks.
This week I made a batch of sauerkraut and some pickled radishes. I’ve only tried making sauerkraut once and it was a complete fail, but I’ve done more research and crossing my fingers that it will come out well. I’ve been using Phickle as my go to resource for pickling!
I’m working on adding a lot more fermented foods into my diet as a test I did recently showed I was lacking in good bacteria. I’m also hoping to try my hand at coconut milk yogurt this week.
Strawberry season is sadly ending here. We’ve had an unusually warm spring so that the strawberries, which consistently ripen throughout June, are almost done. This evening I made several batches of jam and got quite a few into the freezer for future smoothies. Yum.
What is Functional Neurology?
Functional Neurology is a way of working with the body that stimulates the nervous system in very specific ways. It takes advantage of the neural plasticity of the brain by manipulating outside input from the senses or movement to stimulate specific areas.
Come again? Just exactly what is neural plasticity?
Neural plasticity is just a really fancy way of saying neurons can change.
Remind me, what’s a neuron?
A neuron is a type of cell in your body that is responsible for receiving, understand and executing signals.
So how does Functional Neurology work?
Look, here’s the basic logic behind Functional Neurology:
Your brain can change.
Disorders happen when one or more parts of your brain don’t work correctly.
Each part of the brain can be activated through specific stimulus (or exercise)
Every time you do the exercise, neuron connections are being made and strengthened.
Over time, the area of the brain that was full of broken connections becomes filled with working connections.
Symptoms begin to disappear. Progress is made.
It’s not. There’s tons of factors that go into determining what are the correct exercises for your particular situation. And if you choose the wrong ones you can regress, so it’s definitely not a self-diagnosing situation. Functional Neurologists use special equipment to look at eye and body movement to understand what parts of the brain are underperforming and need stimulus.
Who practices Functional Neurology?
First off, a practitioner of functional neurology can go by several names. Although I am familiar the most with the term Functional Neurologist, they can also be known as a Neurological Chiropractor or Chiropractic Neurologist. That being said, Functional Neurologist are usually Chiropractors (although they can come from other fields of healthcare) that have an additional 300+ hours of additional training. Also each candidate is required to spend time interning with a Functional Neurologist before they can take the boards.
What can Functional Neurology help with?
Ah! One of my favorite questions. To make a long story short… Everything. Well, not quite. But there’s a lot it can help with. Because a lot of problems begin in the brain.
I’ve either had personal experience or know someone who has had it help with the following issues:
Secondary Endolymphatic Hydrops (similar to Meniere’s Disease)
In The Woman Who Changed Her Brain, we begin with the story of Barbara Arrowsmith as she grows up in an environment that she doesn’t understand. She later diagnoses herself with 17 learning difficulties that help explain her struggles to understand schoolwork and even the simplest conversations. After discovering the work of Dr. Luria with brain damaged soldiers in post-World War II Russia, Barbara starts developing exercises to rewire her own brain. After fixing herself, Barbara begins helping other frustrated children and adults overcome their learning difficulties and eventually starts a school that does nothing but focus on brain exercises. The rest of the book mainly consists of chapters dealing with each type of learning difficulty that Barbara has come across (19 in all), and testimonials from children and adults that the exercises have helped.
After describing the first exercises she developed for herself (flash cards to tell time on a clock), she writes:
What had happened? The part of my brain that was supposed to make sense of the relationship between symbols – most famously in my case, the hands of a clock – had been barely functioning. The work I did with flash cards activated that moribund part of my brain, getting the neurons to fire in order to forge new neural pathways. This part of my brain had been asleep for the first twenty-six years of my life, and the clock exercise had woken up.
And what about my other issues… This became my quest: to use what I’d learned from this experiment to wake up other areas of my brain.
What I have learned by doing this work for some thirty-four years is this: just as our brains shape us, we can shape our brains. (p. 8)
This book helped me to understand a world where daily life is a huge challenge for those with learning difficulties. It gave me more empathy for those in my life who struggle with challenges and the hope that change is possible.
Who would I recommend this too? Anyone that experiences learning difficulties or lives with someone who does.
I attended a meeting at an old school this week and apparently, I’m really allergic to this building. I lost my voice from sitting there for an hour and a half. Today it’s about half way back, but I’m sneezing every few minutes. C’est la vie.
We’re having my brothers’ piano teacher and her husband over for dinner tonight. I took lessons from her in the summer of 2013 to refresh my piano playing skills as they had grown rusty thanks to my first concussion.
School is winding down here and I’m starting to get excited about summer plans. What’s on your list for summer?
Around the time Dr Z began suspecting I had Secondary Endolymphatic Hydrops, he said I should plan on visiting a neurotologist (a doctor who treats nerve disorders of the ear) to make sure there wasn’t anything else going on. It took a while to find one and then of course it took a while to actually get in, but eventually I had an appointment for the end of May 2014.
Sometime around the beginning of May, I found out that a friend’s mother had Meniere’s disease and was able to talk to her about it and find out what she did for her condition. She had found two things to be helpful. One was taking an expectorant to help fluids drain easily and the other thing that had helped her the most was going gluten-free.
At this point, I realized that if I went to this neurotologist and he suggested that I go gluten-free and then come back and see him in a month, I would be, erm, extremely irritated. So I decided to bite the bullet and go gluten free for the month before my appointment. I had little desire to go gluten free (really, who does?), but I was curious to see if it would help. Well, unfortunately, it did. I’m not convinced that it dramatically helped my ear, although it may have slightly, but what it did help was my brain. My brain cleared up dramatically and within three days I had more stamina than I had had since my accident the previous fall.
I also experimented with the expectorant, but after taking it consistently for three days and starting to developing a rash on my neck, I decided to discontinue it. Plus, it didn’t seem to make a difference during those three days.
At the end of May I saw the neurotologist. Meeting with him was good to check off the list, but there wasn’t much he could do. Of course, I secretly hoped he would suggest I had some easily solvable situation, but that wasn’t the case. He said it sounded like I had pre-Meniere’s and to continue with what I had been doing. This was disappointing, but not surprising.
In Struck By Genius: How a Brain Injury Made Me a Mathematical Marvel, we learn how the brutal attack that Jason Padgett experienced changed his perception of the world. Jason now sees it in a way that most of us can barely dream of – a world where the mathematical principles at it’s foundation have become transparent to him. Instead of seeing the world as a smooth, moving picture, he see it in a series of still frames overlaid with fractals and geometry.
Jason is the only known person to have acquired both savant syndrome along with synesthesia. The term savant is often used to describe people who have increased abilities in one area, often to the expense of their other abilities. Jason acquired an understanding of the mathematical principles that underlie our environment in a way that no one else could see. He also acquired conceptual synesthesia that allowed him to see numbers as shapes that could be manipulated. While conceptual synesthesia and savant syndrome are both rare, the fact that Jason acquired them after his brain injury is all the more remarkable.
Dr. Taffert taught me about the three R’s as they pertain to what happened to my brain. They stand for brain rewiring, recruitment of unused capacity, and release of dormant potential. Though these are present in people who are born with savant syndrome, he explained, their existence has been severely underestimated in the rest of us. Cases like mine prove a far greater plasticity of the brain in it’s ability to heal itself than was previously thought. He said that this has implications not only for brain-injury survivors like me, but also for those who have autism, neurological damage from strokes or nervous system disorders. This makes me hopeful that my experience may one day help other people. (pp. 220-221)
The concepts presented by Jason were unlike anything I had ever heard, and the inclusion of artwork helps the reader understand how he sees the world around him. I enjoyed the peek into his mind and found myself imagining what it would be like to see as he does.
Being able to do these functional neurology exercises at home means that I can start spacing out my appointments to the functional neurologist. I’ve been going once a week for nine months! And before that it was twice to three times a week for nine months!! So this is a huge step forward.
I overdid it at at Physical Therapy this week so I lost a couple of days due to pain in my occipitalis muscle. I never realized muscles existed there until I started Physical Therapy. Because it’s so integral to balance, it just throws everything off until I can get it to calm down.
Other highlights this week involve finishing a woodworking project and getting some more Sacral Occipital Therapy done.
For the past two weeks I have been doing the treatment for Mal de Debarquement Syndrome at home. On my own.
Shortly after I started doing this cure, my functional neurologist had been gracious to give me the program that he was using, with the hopes that my brothers could do it with me. One of them came in with me in December and learned how to move my head appropriately and we tried it at home, but at that time it was too much stimulus to do without having the supervision of the functional neurologist nearby. Plus, I find that one of the keys to it working well is being able to fully relax and feel stable while the treatment was done, and it was hard for me to relax with my fate in my brothers’ hand. Sorry guys! Plus, I couldn’t find a way to sit comfortably. A chair was to high, on my knees was too low, and the ottoman was too squishy, and thus unstable. So I gave it up for the time being.
For the past 5 months, I’ve been going in weekly to my functional neurologist to do the treatment and it was really helping. But eventually it got to the point where it felt like things weren’t improving, just maintaining. But, then I did some SOT, and that cleared up some background issues (like feeling like my head was constantly being pulled backwards) and I started making more improvement to the point where I thought I was strong enough to start doing it on my own at home.
But several weeks ago, I was getting to the point where each Thursday I’d receive my treatment at the functional neurologist, then feel great and push myself all weekend. By Monday I would feel like I was back where I started. So, after several weeks of this, I was starting to wonder if a) I just needed another intensive or b) was there someway I could re think how I was doing this at home. Obviously, doing at home was the much cheaper of the options, so I decided to give it a shot. I thought about it for a couple of days, and then came up with this somewhat unusual arrangement.
After thinking about it, the key to making this work I decided, was to feel safe. But what could I sit on? Then it came to me, our little kid park bench. An unusual item for sure, but the large tv is in our basement and that’s where the little kid toys are parked and the park bench turned out to be the perfect thing for me. First off, it’s wood, so there’s no instability there. Second, the low back gives me the freedom to lean back as far as I want. Third, the handles are easy to secure, but low down enough that I can easily lean side to side.
I was a little worried about doing it by myself, but I decided that I would probably be able to tell really quickly whether it was working, as I tend to be very sensitive and intuitive with my brain.
So one morning I sat down and gave it a shot. And it worked! I just did it for 5 seconds, or possibly less, as I didn’t want to fry any pathways that I’ve worked so hard to build over the past 5 months. I’ve now been consistently doing it at home and it is continuing to work. I’m getting to the point where I feel comfortable doing it for up to 10 seconds and then I take a break and do a few more seconds. I’m hoping to start adding in a second set later in the day.
I am noticing my stamina building and I’m not falling back into my old MdDS pattern as quickly.
Now after saying all this, Please, please, please, don’t try this at home without talking to your functional neurologist. You really need to know what you are doing and be extremely familiar with how your brain works. Since I’ve been doing functional neurology for so, so long I’m very in tune with how my brain feels and can immediately detect if something doesn’t feel right. If you did this on your own, you could seriously mess things up and create worse problems. So this is not really meant as a how-to-guide by any means (and I’ve certainly left out details about the program, etc.), but this is more of a “here’s what I did, and this therapy can make a difference, so there’s hope for you too!” post.
The Tale of the Dueling Neurosurgeons by Sam Kean takes us on a journey of how we have come to understand how the brain works. He begins with a simple explanation of the brain and then continues through the parts of the brain with case studies that were crucial to doctors and scientists understanding the detailed functions of each part.
There are a lot of tales of injury and woe in this book. But there’s a hell of a lot or resiliency, too. We’re all fragile, and we’re all very, very strong… No one’s brain gets through life unscathed. But the thing about the brain is that, despite what changes, so much remains intact. (p. 355)
This book was a very helpful primer on the brain and how it works. I especially enjoyed reading the case studies that demonstrated neuroplasticity.
Who would I recommend this too? Anyone who enjoys easy to read light non-fiction.
Just last week, I posted to a link on visual snow, a condition that I never had heard of before. Well, this week, while visiting my friend Patricia, I found out her husband had developed it suddenly last year. I’m hoping he’ll try functional neurology helpful. So far, he hasn’t gotten any relief from other doctors.
Because my MdDS has been doing so much better, I’m catching up on a backlog of woodworking projects… I have three going on right now – carriage doors panel replacements, three small trellises and window box braces. I’m slowly reintroducing myself to power tools as I’m not as confident as I used to be!
And drumroll please…. Visiting my functional neurologist this week, I got permission to start coming in every other week. After a year and a half of visiting once a week (or 9 months at twice a week) this is a HUGE deal. So grateful.