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Pain, Performance & The Brain (Learn These 3 Key Ideas!)- Episode 443

Video Highlights

- The three basic functions of the nervous system
- Which two components are ignored in most training systems
- Examples of nervous system outputs

In this video, we are providing an excerpt from our Essentials of Elite Performance course that outlines the nervous system’s three most basic functions: receiving sensory input, processing that input, and creating a motor output. While we definitely go into more detail on these topics throughout the Z-Health curriculum, this foundational framework will help guide your thinking and your client programming for the rest of your career!

Download our Free Neurofundamentals Ebook

We’re going to get into simplifying neurology.   Foundational concepts. We always say, let’s begin with neurology simplified.
So here is the easiest place for us to begin.

We’re gonna take a look at this picture and just remind ourselves that the nervous system does three things.

So the very first thing that the nervous system does is it receives afferent input.

Now receiving afferent input basically means that as I’m going through the world, my brain’s receiving signals from all of my senses. And we’re gonna talk about these different input systems as we go through.

But if you stop right now and go back to kindergarten, you remember that you got your five senses, we’ve got my eyes, my ears, my nose, my mouth, and my sense of touch.

So we have the visual system. We have the auditory system, the olfactory system, the gustatory system, and the tactile system. That’s a version, an example of inputs. and moving through the world requires us to have a high-quality level of input.

We need accurate input from our hands, accurate input from our eyes, accurate input from the auditory system, etcetera.

So as a brain-based practitioner, one of the big questions you’re constantly going to be asking is, what is the quality of this client’s input system?

So the very first thing that’s happening as I move through the world I’m gonna be taking in information.

That’s called afferent input. To help you remember that, I always tell people, afferent input makes the brain aware of what’s going on.

Now once we take in all those signals, right? We’re taking them in from different areas of the body. If I’m reaching out to grab my cup of coffee, I’m getting information from the sensors in my hands about the heat of the cup, the shape of the cup, the weight of the cup, etcetera.

Now that information has to then be translated. So that information’s gonna go to the spinal cord. It’s going to ascend to the brain, and a couple of very important things now happen.

The brain is gonna receive that information from all the different sensory systems. It has to integrate that information. It then must decide what that input means and what to do about it.

So there’s an integration, decision-making process that has to occur.

As we dive into looking at the different areas of the brain, it’s gonna be really important for you to understand that lots of problems can occur here. Right?

Because the brain can have multiple injuries from maybe head traumas or disuse. And so sometimes the integration areas, the decision-making areas become somewhat dysfunctional.

So movement, right, moving through the world first requires input, and then it requires a lot of integration and decision-making from the brain itself.

So that’s stage two. Stage three, What does the nervous system do? It creates an output. Alright? A motor output. And that is gonna be referred to as an efferent output.

So whenever we think about the nervous system, we can give you lots of complicated names and talk about the corticospinal tract and the rubrospinal tract and blah blah blah blah.

What I need you to know in the beginning is that it only does three things. It takes in information. It decides what that information means. and then hopefully creates an appropriate output based on those other two.

Now, as movement practitioners, most of us, particularly if we come from a biomechanical background, were taught to focus primarily on output systems.

We have someone come to us. We go, hey, what’s going on with you? I’m having some shoulder pain. When are you having it?

Every time I reach out, that is the end of the experiment. Right? This is the output. Every time I ask someone to make a voluntary movement, we are seeing the end of this loop. So we’ve already received a lot of sensory input. we’ve asked the brain to integrate, interpret, and decide about that sensory input to create this output.

And this was one of the biggest revelations for me personally in working with clients was beginning to understand that most of our classical educational models were very output-focused. They would have us evaluate movements, they would have us evaluate pain, but what was often left out was, hey, what’s going on in the input systems?

Now, again, I come from a classical background, so I would did a lot of physical therapy modalities in addition to mobilization, manipulation, and exercise. So if someone came to me with a shoulder issue, I might put hot packs on it. I might use cold. I might use massage. I might use vibration or some kind of other input tool. Now, all of that is sensory. Right?

So some of our systems acknowledge the idea that the input systems mattered, but we really weren’t taught to look at them very specifically on a neurological level.

What was virtually always ignored in the systems, however, was number two. Is the brain capable of integrating that information? Is it capable of receiving that information? How does it feel about that information?

Because ultimately, what I want you to hear is if I want to run faster, jump higher, hit harder, bend without pain, If I want a better output, the take-home message of this particular slide, this particular concept, is that better outputs are typically the result of improved quantity and quality of received inputs and a healthier integration and decision making process in the central nervous system.

So all of our training goals are going to be wrapped up in this one slide.

We’re going to say, hey, let’s evaluate the input systems, let’s evaluate the integration and decision-making areas of the brain.

And hopefully, in doing that, we’re going to then drive a much-improved output.

Now the other thing I wanna bring up within all of this is that outputs are not just movements. Right?

There can be a lot of different things that are outputs. Pain is output as an example. Anger is an output as an example.

So whenever we talk about output. It is not always about some kind of specific voluntary movement.

There are a lot of things that are going to be the end product of this particular loop.

So all that you need to remember right now, is that the nervous system does three things, takes in information, integrates and decides what to do with that information, and then creates hopefully an appropriate behavioral motor output as a result of the first two.

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