Get excited about your cerebellum.
If we are really to harness the power of our brain, we must also understand the systems running behind the scenes so we can train them to their optimal capacity.
Classically thought to be only for motor coordination and balance, the cerebellum is now recognized as a driver of how we feel. And, whether we like it or not, feelings are what motivate us and drive our behaviour.
The cerebellum is the midway point between your spinal cord and your cortex, and 2/3 of the neurons in your brain are in the cerebellum. It even looks uniquely different than the rest of the brain. Imagine it as the dense forest that connects the superhighway of your spinal cord to a cortical canopy.
In looking at the actual job of the cerebellum, its contribution to how we feel may come as a bit of a surprise. The cerebellum is in constant surveillance of and communication with the body. It processes the raw data and gives a factual account of what is happening in the body with no interpretation. This part of the brain is key to understanding what is happening inside, and having the tools to train it is like having the source code to turn on a master switch.
So, this is what’s under the hood.
There are three main tracts through which the cerebellum is receiving information from the body:
- The spinal cerebellum is responsible for the information that is coming in from your muscles and your joints. This is also where pain travels. This is the information that tells your cerebellum and the rest of your brain what your body is doing; but the difference is in the speed at which the information travels—proprioceptive information travels at 120m/s while pain travels at 30m/s.
- The vestibular cerebellum has two primary sources of input: the inner ear for your sense of balance and your visual system. The operation of this system is significantly more taxing because our visual system consumes 50% of the brain’s blood flow. But, the more visual acuity you have, the better it becomes as your accuracy improves.
- The cortical cerebellum is the incoming information from your cortex. It is activated when using the central pattern generators programmed within our brains, such as learning to walk. Beyond such developmental patterns, it is also used when we practice something. The more you practice, the more you are using that system. Ideally, we want to have all three streams be online, but we can function reasonably well with two out of three. If we want to really maximize the system though, we want to have all three pathways operating where they are not over-compensating for one another. The key to optimizing the system is to improve the accuracy of each component of it. And the key to accuracy is diversity.
We can improve the accuracy of the spinal cerebellum clinically by using joint mobilization or soft tissue techniques to increase temperature, alter blood flow, and decongest the system. Having diversity of input in terms of soft tissue modalities or variation of movement allows the system to index itself. When we challenge the receptors, the system becomes better at recalibrating itself.
The accuracy of the vestibular cerebellum comes from visual acuity, but there is only so much we can do about the sharpness of our vision. As the world has become more visually exciting, our visual system is becoming more dominant and the vestibular system is dampening, so training our vestibular system so it doesn’t lag behind is crucial. Clinically, we can use different eye movements to stimulate or inhibit different paraspinal muscles, which are the deep stabilizers in your spine.
The accuracy of the cortical cerebellum comes from practice. If you are injured, a clinical intervention that would tap into this system would be to change your gait in order to manage the loads and change the sequence of your muscle utilization.
The spinal cerebellum is really the bedrock of rehab techniques and modalities as we tap into your neurology to influence or override the pain response. But, generally speaking, when the cerebellum is stimulated, there is also a non-motoric output. It stimulates serotonin and dopamine releases, which are the feel good hormones. When you learn a new move or anything else, it feels good. The more you engage with this system, the better you feel.
And it is also where the bed of our cognition is, so utilizing this system also allows you to think better, to make better decisions, and to build better mental models for yourself. Your brain constantly upgrades, so when we reset it to override old maps, it becomes more accurate so you can have less pain, optimize function, and live your best life.
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Dr. Tabrizi is a chiropractor, osteopath and a passionate member of both the local and scientific community, whose goal is to teach that the pursuit of optimal health and wellness is much more than being symptom-free. His practice is rooted in the philosophy of treating the person rather than just treating the illness or ailment. As a result of his interdisciplinary training, Dr. Tabrizi has developed a neuroscience-based therapeutic education approach to treating his patients, focusing on healing illness from a wider perspective, placing equal responsibility on patient as well as practitioner. Dr. Tabrizi aims to educate his patients and provide them with the tools and framework needed to integrate pain management and healthy living into the fabric of their everyday lives.