Is there a handbrake in your Brain?

Does it sometimes feel like you just don’t have the strength that you usually have?

Maybe you can’t lift as much at the gym, or perhaps you just can’t open that stubborn jam jar in the kitchen. Does it feel like someone’s put the handbrake on your muscles?

This idea of having a handbrake on your muscles may actually be more real than you think… well maybe not a handbrake on your muscles, but a handbrake in your brain which is what controls your muscles and tells them to contract..

Over the last few years a number of studies have shown that when you get adjusted by a chiropractor it can make you stronger.

First of all, though, let’s look at why scientists may be interested in how chiropractic care may change the way your brain controls your muscles. The answer to this is really simple. Over the last few years, a number of studies have shown that when you get adjusted by a chiropractor it can make you stronger. One study reported in a group of students who received chiropractic care, that they were actually able to produce 16% more force in their leg muscle after a chiropractor had gently checked and adjusted any dysfunctional spinal segments, or what chiropractors call vertebral subluxations.1

This didn’t happen when the chiropractors did a control intervention that just involved moving their spine, but not adjusting them. The same group of researchers in New Zealand followed up this study in elite Tae Kwon Do athletes, and again showed that even in a group of elite, highly trained athletes, a single session of chiropractic care can improve their strength and also helped to stop their muscles from getting tired.2 They have also studied the effects of chiropractic care in a group of patients who have had a stroke and lost the strength in their muscles. In this study, they found that chiropractic adjustments helped these stroke patients to regain strength in their muscles.3

But what does this have to do with handbrakes in the brain you may wonder. Well, in a new study by the same team of researchers, they wanted to see if chiropractic care resulted in an increase in the way the brain could drive the muscle in the subject’s arms.4 To do this, they measured the participant’s bicep’s muscle strength, and then measured something that’s called ‘central inhibition’, before and after a single session of chiropractic care, or just moving their heads around as a control intervention. This ‘central inhibition’ measure is a bit like the brain’s handbrake to the muscle.

There are two ways the brain can increase the way your muscle contracts. It can either press the gas pedal or it can release the ‘hand brake’ to that muscle. It’s a little bit more complicated than this of course because the brain has many ‘gas pedals’ and many ‘hand brakes’ to every single muscle in your body. But the scientists wanted to know if a particular type of handbrake changed after these subjects got adjusted. The technical term for the method they used to record this was ‘TMS twitch interpolation technique’ and it allows them to explore the way the participant’s brains are driving their arm muscles… in other words, it measured the degree to which their brain was pulling the handbrake to that particular muscle.

It is possible that chiropractic care is releasing the handbrake to your muscles, making it easier for your brain to move your muscles and produce more strength.

So, if you feel like you’ve got a handbrake in your muscles or in your brain, maybe you should go see a chiropractor and see if they can help your brain release the handbrake so that your brain can more efficiently control your muscles and perhaps even help you to get that jam jar open.

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