Your Brain-Spine Connection
Let’s start with a basic understanding of what your nervous system is and how it works.
Think of your nervous system as a complex wiring or communication network. As discussed in our previous post, this network has three main components:
Brain, Spinal Cord, and Nerves
Scientists like to think of the nervous system as being made up of separate parts. We are taught to think of our brain as being separate from our spinal cord, and our nerves are separate structures altogether.
But the fact is that all of the components of your nervous system are connected. Your nervous system is actually the same structure in different shapes, connected and sharing critical functions and features.
For example, your spinal cord is an extension of your brain, scientists just gave it a different name, but it is the same tissue with a slightly different function. It would almost be more accurate to rename the spinal cord to the “brain cord.”
Likewise, your nerves are an extension of your spinal cord. This wiring system is continuously flowing into and out of the different subdivisions — brain to the spinal cord, spinal cord to spinal nerves, and vice versa.
Your nervous system is a series of communication tracks that send and receive the electrical impulses that animate your life—YOUR LIFE FORCE.
This POWER flows in two directions: from your brain to your body, and from your body back to your brain. From above down, inside out.
Let’s talk in more detail about each division, the three main components, of your nervous system.
1. Your Brain: The Boss of your Body
I’m sure you know that humans have well-developed brains that allow us to be the dominant species on planet earth. I’m not going to get into complex neuro-anatomy here, but imagine your brain as a complex supercomputer. It is the collection and integration site of all the sensory information that you experience. That might sound a bit too technical. What does that mean?
Well, for example, if you are reading this post and sitting at a computer, there is a lot happening in your nervous system. Your eyes are scanning the computer screen trying to focus on the various words; that information is flowing into your brain through your eyes (your optic nerve). You are simultaneously thinking about what you are reading.
At the same time, your spinal muscles are keeping you upright in your chair so they have to contract at just the right intensity or you will slouch too much.
You can probably also hear the ambient sound(s) in the room coming in through your ears. If you wiggle your toes, you can feel your toes move against your shoes and the floor beneath your feet. You are probably breathing at a calm, even rate.
Your heart is beating. Your kidneys are detoxifying your bloodstream. And on and on and on. There are thousands of things happening in your nervous system at the same second.
All of this is happening at the same time, and you aren’t consciously controlling all of these functions. It really is quite amazing. How does this happen?
The answer is your brain.
Your brain is the master control center of your nervous system that takes in all this information, processes it, prioritizes it, and then sends electrical signals to tell your various body parts what to do, through this wiring system. This all happens almost instantly.
2. Your Spinal Cord: Your Lifeline
Your spinal cord (you can call it “brainal cord” if you like) is a continuation of your brain, that runs down the center of your back through your spinal column, otherwise called, your spine. In the last post, we described in detail the structure and function of your spinal column.
Your spinal column is a series of bones stacked on top of each other, that provides structural stability for your body and, most importantly, protects your nervous system.
Your spinal cord is the main highway through which your brain receives information from your environment, and sends instructions to your cells, tissues, and organs.
3. Your Nerves: Your Wiring Network
Your nerves branch out from your spinal cord, further subdividing to connect to all your muscles, organs, glands, and cells. Your nerves transmit the individual instructions that are sent through the spinal cord from your brain and carry the sensory information from your cells, tissues, and organs back to your brain. It’s a two-way street. Your brain needs to know the state of your body, so it can fine-tune and regulate your physiology.
Your entire nervous system (brain, spinal cord, and nerves) is interrelated and interconnected. Like a networked office building, your brain is the central server and the individual data cables act as the nerves, allowing the server to communicate with the individual computers located anywhere in the building.
Your Spine Protects Your Nervous System
A very close relationship exists between the position, alignment, and movement of your spine and the health of your nervous system.
As you can see in the picture above, the nerve sits in a groove, or a space created when two spinal bones are in proper alignment. Remember your nerves are like wires that extend from your spinal cord and transmit information—your life force—to and from your brain.
From this point of exit from your spinal column, your spinal nerves branch to communicate with the rest of your body.
Spinal nerves are extremely delicate; a very small degree of pressure can distort and interfere with the flow of information through a given nerve.
This means that if your spinal bones are not properly aligned, pressure will be imposed on the spinal nerves, interfering with the vital energy flowing through that nerve.
The disk, as seen in the picture, is like a pad that guides motion and absorbs shock in between the spinal bones. Disks are also at their strongest when your spine is in optimal alignment. More on spinal discs in future posts.
Spine Misalignments Can Irritate Your Nerves
Your spine is the core structure of your body and all of the stresses, movements, and traumas that you experience translate or travel towards your spine. This makes your spine highly susceptible to injury.
The bones of your spine can fall out of alignment, getting locked out of place—leading to endangering stress(es) to your nervous system.
There is a special name for this misalignment condition; spinal misalignments are known as vertebral subluxations or simply, subluxations.
Here is a picture of a subluxation:
As you can see, the misaligned bones in the diagram are causing direct squeezing pressure to the nerve—the one that is represented as red.
Nerve pressure is a very serious thing. The body part that is being supplied by this nerve will have reduced nerve supply. Over time, that body part will weaken. That weakening will accumulate, and in time, some type of symptom will develop.
For example, if this nerve supplies the muscles of your upper back and shoulder area, this subluxation condition can certainly lead to muscle stiffness, numbness, and tingling in your shoulders and arms. If this nerve is supplying your heart and lungs, the subluxation condition may result in dysfunction in those areas, weakening your vitality from the inside out.
Imagine a garden hose supplying a bed of flowers in your garden. If you step on that garden hose, you’ll have decreased water flow to the flowers. In time, the flowers will wilt and die.
It’s a very similar situation if you’re dealing with a subluxation (spinal misalignment), causing interference to the flow of energy through an area of your nervous system: subluxation will result in a health problem(s).
The essence of chiropractic is correcting subluxations and restoring nerve system integrity.
Subluxations and nerve interference are the leading causes of:
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain and stiffness
- Migraines and headaches
- Lower back pain
- Numbness and tingling
- Posture problems
- Arthritis and spine degeneration
- Low energy and fatigue
Subluxations can be present without overt pain. This means you don’t feel the subluxation, you feel the effects of the subluxation. That is why everyone needs to have their spine checked for alignment.
Your Brain is at Risk [Warning: this gets a little technical]
Your brain is like a battery — it needs to be charged. There are millions of signals being transmitted to and from your brain every second. The incoming level of electrical activity (known as afferent barrage) excites your brain cells (neurons or nerve cells) and allows your brain as a whole to function in a balanced and coordinated manner.
You have two sides or two hemispheres to your brain, and they need to be charged relatively equally for your brain to function optimally. Your brain needs to be balanced.
What determines the level charge (known as excitation) is the volume of stimuli coming in from your environment.
Your senses —sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, position sense — are actually electrical signals that are interpreted by your brain through a series of chemical reactions that take place in your brain tissue.
These incoming signals “feed” your brain with stimuli, like flipping a light switch allows a light bulb to illuminate. Your brain is lit up by the sensory stimuli that travel to your brain through your nervous system. Just to repeat, I’m referring to sight, sound, taste, smell, touch and position sensation.
Here’s the key part: the quality and character of the input determine the quality of output.
Spine Problems Damage Your Brain
The most numerous type of signal that travels to your brain is known as proprioception. Now, that may sound like a very technical bit of jargon, but proprioception simply means position sensation.
The joints of your body tell your brain their position, based on the position sensation that travels through your nervous system. Your spinal joints are among the most sensitive and neurologically rich joints of your body.
Here’s the key point:
When your spine is subluxated, the position sensation joints of your spine send abnormal, asymmetrical, distorted signals to your brain. Over time, this imbalance in sensation (neurological electrical signals) traveling through your nervous system to your brain can cause one side of your brain to have less of a charge (a lower level of excitation).
This imbalance between the two sides of your brain can cause a dramatic overall reduction in the function and vitality of your brain. Your brain will become less healthy. You will become less healthy because your brain controls every aspect of your health and life.
This can manifest in a wide variety of pains, symptoms, and body signals.
If your spine is out of alignment, if it is tight, restricted, and inflamed due to subluxation then you have a problem. The dysfunction and misalignment in your spine can send distorted signals to your brain causing a distorted, weakened brain.
This is why subluxation is more than a pain problem. A subluxation is a brain dysfunction problem. Subluxations damage your master POWER system.
If you want to feel better, function better, and express your full health potential, you need a healthy nervous system. You need optimal nerve supply. The only way to achieve that is with a healthy, aligned spine. And Doctors of Chiropractic specialize in the health and alignment of your spine, and ultimately, the overall health of your nervous system.
Chiropractors are more than PAIN doctors, we are nerve system and life performance specialists.