The nervous system
Your nervous system is a highly complex network that transmits signals all around your body. It’s central to how we interact with the world — enabling us to move, experience sensations and interpret and remember information. This is possibly the most impressive system in your body, and one of the most important — so how does it work?
What is the nervous system?
The nervous system can be viewed as three parts:
- Central nervous system
This consists of the brain and spinal cord and is responsible for sensory input, information processing and control of movement. The brain acts as the body’s command centre, taking in signals from all other parts of the body, interpreting them and then sending instructions back out. These instructions control most of our internal functions, including breathing, heart rate, body temperature and emotions.
- Peripheral nervous system
These are the nerves that branch out from the spinal cord and travel all around the body. These nerves carry sensory information to the brain to be interpreted, and carry movement commands from the brain to the different muscles.
- Autonomic nervous system
The nerves in the autonomic system supply the internal organs and blood vessels. These nerves carry instructions to control internal processes like breathing, heart rate and blood pressure, digestion, body temperature and sexual response. The two divisions of the autonomic nervous system stimulate activity (through the sympathetic division) and inhibit activity (through the parasympathetic division) in order to regulate bodily functions.
How does it all work?
The brain is made up of approximately 100 billion neurones, and each of these are connected to thousands more. All nervous tissue around the body contains neurones, and these charged cells pass electrical signals through the body.
When one neurone receives a signal from a part of the body, it passes it on to the next neurone, which passes it to the next, and so on along pathways. Neurones conduct electricity so powerfully that these signals travel at incredible speeds!
When one of these signals reaches the end of a neurone, it triggers a release of chemicals that can stimulate or inhibit responses from the body.
Thanks to this network of neurones, our bodies can execute controlled movements, experience skin sensations, and manage pain. It also enables the brain to store information, for example remembering that touching a hot pan hurts and therefore preventing you from doing it again.
What happens when the nervous system fails?
Nerve disease can range in severity, from neurapraxia (also known as “stinger”) where the nerve becomes overstretched, causing numbness and tingling, to progressive neurological diseases including multiple sclerosis, motor neurone disease and Parkinson’s.
There are a variety of problems that can cause issues, such as trauma, infection, degeneration and autoimmune disorders. Because of the vast extent of the work of the nervous system, symptoms are highly varied. Some of the most common general symptoms of nervous system disorder include:
- Numbness or tingling
- Weakness in the muscles
- Lack of coordination
- Stiff muscles
- Back pain that radiates to the feet or toes
- Neck pain that radiates to the hands or fingers
- Persistent or unusual headaches
- Vision changes
- Loss of memory
- Impaired mental function
- Tremors or seizures
Looking after your nervous system
Such an important system is worth doing your best to take care of. Certain vitamins and minerals are essential for your nerves to be able to transmit messages and to keep them working properly, including:
- Calcium – found in dairy products, eggs and leafy greens
- Potassium – found in bananas, oranges, pomegranates and prunes
- Tryptophan – found in dark chocolate (any excuse to eat more dark chocolate, right?)
- Vitamin B – found in milk, cheese, eggs, chicken, red meat, tuna, salmon, shellfish and dark green vegetables
Regular yoga and stretching can help to improve function of the nervous system, as well as reducing your levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) which can negatively affect the nervous system.
Chiropractic treatment centres around the proper functioning of the nervous system. Many of the techniques we use during treatment aim to affect this system which helps to bring about change in the musculoskeletal system, improve bodily movement, and reduce pain.
Have questions about the health of your nervous system? Give us a call on (02) 9523 9940 or email us at email@example.com – we’re always happy to chat.