What is Functional Neurology? Why would I ever need it?
Hello, everyone! Welcome to the Restorative Health Solutions weekly blog post.
Today, we are going to be talking about functional neurology. What does it mean? Who is it for? What makes it unique? These are all questions that people ask often. In this blog, we will do our best to answer these questions and also provide some additional information that will hopefully intrigue you!
So, What is Functional Neurology?
The definition of functional neurology, according to the Functional Neurology Society, is the following:
“Functional neurology is based on the principles of neuroplasticity. The various parts of your nervous system can be altered to work more efficiently and even regenerate. The goal of a Functional Neurologist is to optimize this remarkable ability.”
In a nutshell, neuroplasticity refers to changing the nervous system. The brain and nervous system have a remarkable ability to change within milliseconds. For instance, if you improve in a sport (shooting or dribbling a basketball, hitting a curveball, catching/throwing a football, stick or puck handling in hockey, etc.), learn something in school or learn from past experiences, these are all forms of neuroplasticity. Your brain changes in all of these situations and allows you to improve a skill, remember a fact, figure out an equation or even alter the way you react or think about things later in life (i.e. learning that if you behaved a certain way as a child or adolescent, you were disciplined or something was taken away, which made you change that behavior).
Who does Functional Neurology benefit?
Well, it can apply to just about anyone. However, there are certain ailments or conditions that are better suited for functional neurology. In our clinical experience, the conditions we have been able to help through functional neurology are:
- Concussion/Mild Traumatic Brain Injury (mTBI)
- Dizziness (lightheadedness)
- Headaches (migraines, tension headaches, trigeminal neuralgia, occipital neuralgia)
- Tic Disorders
- Balance disorders/Ataxia
- Neck pain
- Back pain
- Peripheral neuropathy
- Parkinson’s Disease
- Post-stroke rehabilitation
- Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)
- Learning disorders
What Makes Functional Neurology Unique?
How is functional neurology different from traditional neurology? The biggest things that make functional neurology unique are the interpretation of the comprehensive neurological examination and the principles by which it stands on. We have already somewhat addressed the latter by talking about neuroplasticity in the first section of the blog, but what does the interpretation of the exam mean? Isn’t it all interpreted the same no matter who you see?
In a standard neurological examination, you will go through a lot of the same testing that we perform in a functional neurological examination. Traditionally, if you can perform every test, it’s considered “within normal limits.” But, what if you try tracking a target (a finger or tip of a pen is usually used) back-and-forth with your eyes and you can do the task, but there is a subtle breakdown in movement in the eyes? This would be considered normal in a traditional neurological exam because you can do the test with a minor breakdown in movement. In a functional neurological exam, we ask ourselves “why do they have a breakdown in eye movements?” We then correlate that with the rest of your examination to try and figure out the mechanism. Could it be a parietal lobe mechanism? A cerebellar mechanism? A mechanism in the brainstem that stabilizes your gaze (ability to fixate your eyes on a target without your eyes moving). If it is a parietal lobe mechanism, we then correlate that finding with other findings associated with that part of the nervous system. Does the patient have a hard time with balance? Do they perceive sensory input (light touch, pain, vibration) more on one side of the body than the other? Are they hypersensitive to stimulation or pain? Do they have proper depth perception? This is just one example of the thought process behind a functional neurology practitioner. Just because an examination is “normal”, doesn’t mean you won’t have symptoms. MRI scans, along with other imaging studies, are wonderful because they help us diagnose, detect and rule out certain diseases or conditions. They will show abnormalities in the anatomy (tumors, lesions, plaques, etc) and vasculature (aneurysms, blood clots, arteriovenous malformations, etc), but it will not show you how a certain part of the brain or nervous system functions. This is where functional neurology comes in. The goal is to try and figure out how certain areas in the nervous system are functioning as well as trying to ascertain what we need to do in order to make the brain and nervous system function at a more optimal level.
The Big Picture
One of the most fascinating functions of the brain and nervous system is how your brain works as a whole and not in isolated or individual sections. Your brain is the master control. Everything that happens in yo
ur body is controlled by your brain. EVERYTHING!! The beating of your heart, your ability to breathe, your ability to digest food and absorb nutrients, etc. 90% of your brain’s function is to send projections (pathways that send nerve signals) down to the same side of the brainstem to make sure we maintain these autonomic/vital functions without us even having to think about it! The remaining 10% of the brain’s function is used for things we consciously control (I’m going to throw this ball, draw this picture, clean the house, etc). This is why you’ll always hear the saying “we only use 10% of our brain.”
There isn’t a process that happens in your body that doesn’t have an impact on the brain. This is the exciting thing about functional neurology. If we can improve the functioning of the brain, can we improve other functions throughout the body? For example, if your brain has decreased in function, it will not activate or signal your pituitary gland to tell your organs to make hormones. We will use the thyroid gland for an example. If the brain doesn’t signal the pituitary gland to make the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), then the pituitary gland doesn’t tell the thyroid gland to manufacture thyroid hormones. There is a receptor for thyroid hormone in every cell of your body. This patient will have a typical pattern of pituitary suppression, which means the pituitary gland is being suppressed in function due to the brain. This pattern would likely show up as low TSH and low T4 (the inactive form of thyroid hormone) and low T3 ( the active form of thyroid hormone). What if we could improve the function of the brain so it would signal the pituitary gland to make more TSH and, therefore, have the thyroid gland make more thyroid hormones? What about the brain’s impact on the adrenal glands? Or the brain’s impact on the gut? What about the impact the thyroid, adrenals or gut has on the brain? This is why functional neurology works well with functional medicine! We could go on and on! It’s a very exciting topic that we should be able to build on for years to come!
We hope you learned a lot about what functional neurology is and what it stands for. It’s very difficult to write an introductory blog about a topic that incorporates so much information and that you could talk about for far too long. Hopefully, this article wasn’t too long-winded!
posts, we will be breaking down individual topics, conditions, testing, etc. We look forward to providing information in the future that can either help you or someone else that you think may benefit from the information.
At Restorative Health Solutions, we provide a unique approach to your health. We take on a personalized/individualized approach to each patient’s case. We pride ourselves on figuring out the “why” and are determined to find the underlying cause of dysfunction in our patients’ health and, therefore, help them heal. If you are interested in what functional neurology can do for you, please give us a call at 952-479-7801 for a free 15-minute phone consultation!