Patterns of movements can be termed engrams. An engram is the template of an action. Once stored it makes the movement reliable and specific. Movement is very sensory. The importance lies in the process of the movement – how did it happen? Think of a baby seemingly playfully flapping arms and legs in front of its face. It is discovering that these limbs in some way belong and can be controlled.

Sometimes, nerve compressions or entrapments interfere with impulse conduction. Think of the nerve as a hydraulic system (inside-out pipe), as opposed to an electrical wire. Impulses pass along like ripples. If you press on the nerve (imagine stepping on a hose) you will interrupt the flow. Five pounds of pressure for five minutes will result in a dampened signal with poor signal timing and result in degraded information (Sperry).

We know that there are three major communication systems of the body. These include the nerves, the blood vessels which deliver hormones, and the immune system, which mobilizes cells for defense. But, there are no nerves connecting the skeletal muscles with the blood vessels that control the supply of nutrients. So how do they communicate? How do the blood vessels know how to contract and dilate according to the demand for nutrients by increased muscle activity? This question has perplexed scientists for a long time.

Recently it was discovered that nitrous oxide (NO) plays a role in cell-to-cell communications. NO is a highly diffusible, fast acting messenger with a short life (ten seconds). Muscle cells in need produce NO. This NO quickly migrates to the smooth muscle lining the nearby arteries and causes them to dilate (relax). Nutrient rich blood floods into the hard working muscle.

Nitroglycerine has been used for decades as a medication for angina. Only recently has the mechanism of pain relief been attributed to the role of nitrous oxide. How many more communication systems will we discover? We are just beginning to learn about the many energy systems, some of which may transmit messages at the speed of light, some instantaneously, but this is another article altogether.

There is a developmental relationship between the skin and the brain. They are related by their ectoderm origin. The skin contains a great number of sensory neurons and the brain processes information from it. The frontal cortex of the brain handles conscious information and voluntary movement. This is the pyramidal system. It stimulates the alpha motor neurons to excite skeletal muscle fibres and effect movement. The cerebellum in the hind-brain on the other hand is for inhibiting, dampening and filtering any extraneous sensory imputs, mostly on a unconscious level. This is the extra-pyrimidal system.

The gamma sensorimotor system doesn’t ascend to the motor cortex. It involves only the cerebellum, brain stem and muscle spindles (intrafusal muscle fibres). Dendrites in the cerebellum grow and synapses form according to habituation. It forms a kind of ‘memory bank’ of movement. This can be a good thing and a bad thing. This system is designed to resist change.

From a bodywork point of view there are a couple of things to consider. If you assess a poor movement pattern what are your options. Is there pain involved? Is it structural, functional or both? If you attempt to rehabilitate the problem what tools do you have in your toolbox? Are you going to rehabilitate from an alpha or a gamma standpoint? Can both be addressed with one rehabilitation tool or do you need a bunch of tools? Can we use cross-training to open up the SNS to new sensations and to re-configure patterns?

So many questions.

I have modified this rather deep blog from an article that I first wrote in 2005 after studying with Deane Juhan. I sent it to a NZ massage magazine but it was never published. I was told later that it was too boring. They were right. But still, it was too good to waste. I will in the future elaborate on similar concepts using information from two new books ‘Skeletal Anatomy, function and Plasticity’ by Lieberman and the recently reviewed Janda Approach book. These will make the above information far more easily understood.