In this time, where many are making New Years Resolutions, I am pondering – what makes resolutions stick? In cleaning up my (stacks of) paperwork, I came across a great journal article from 2008 on “Principles of Experience-Dependant Neural Plasticity”; basically meaning how our brain wires or re-wires itself based on the experiences that we have. It may not be news to all of you reading that our brain continually remodels itself in order to to encode new experience and enable behavioural change – no new learning then equals no behavioural change.

The article was written on the implications of these principles for rehabilitation after brain damage but throughout the article it comments on how these principles can also inform individuals who have not suffered from a brain injury.

I found the principles drive a large amount of my practice and the clients that I see improve quickly are the one’s that abide by them! So here they are –

1. Use it or Lose it: This one speaks for itself – if you don’t use your body as it’s designed you start to lose function!

2. Use it and Improve it: Again, pretty basic! The more you drive a specific pattern, the better that pattern becomes.

3. Specificity: My favourite principle and arguably one of the most important for anyone looking to rehabilitate an injury or improve function. It’s not only that you exercise but HOW you exercise that matters.  The type of exercises to rehabilitate any injury is different from person to person depending on their own body’s unique movement expression.

4. Repetition Matters: It’s not just about acquiring a new way of moving but it’s continuing to perform that new movement over time – sitting to standing or standing to sitting is a great example. If you continue to plop down into your chair or use your hands to press you up, your legs will never get stronger and if you have knee pain, it’s unlikely it will go away. So that means, every time you sit to stand, you do it properly and you will reap the benefits!

5. Intensity Matters: The number of times a new movement is performed, the greater the lasting behaviour change. I’ve seen people rehab intensely painful tennis elbow over the span of week just by changing the way they were lifting at work and doing their Physio exercises!

6. Time Matters: This is particularly relevant for longer standing cases of chronic pain – sometimes new motor learning happens over a series of days, weeks or even months. It takes time for all the re-learning to happen, don’t give up!

7.  Salience Matters: This may seem obvious to many of you… The more important the new pattern is, the most likely it is that the new pattern will be encoded in your brain mapping. Motivation and attention are important here too – sometimes doing your exercises in front of the TV is not the way to go!

8. Age Matters: Sad but true – younger brains respond better and faster to new movement patterns and exercises… But that doesn’t mean the older brains can’t make changes. A lot of people believe their body is degenerating faster than it actually is! You can still teach old dogs new tricks!

9. Transference: Changes made in one area of training or movement can transfer over to other areas. An example: a calf raise transferring to walking up stairs

10. Interference: Developing new skills in one area can inhibit learning in another area. This is very relevant in the case of brain injury but also important when recovering from injury or developing a new movement patterns to be specific to the areas you are looking to target while maintaining a whole body perspective.

Just a few things to ponder as you go about pondering fitness and life goals for 2017!
Reference: Kleim., JA. Jones, TA. Principles of Experience-Dependent Neural Plasticity: Implications for Rehabilitation After Brain Injury

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Sarah understands and believes that the body is designed to heal from injury and regain balance to provide effortless, pain free movement.