A Clinical Application of Easing Pain via Neuroplasticity

presented by Adriaan Louw

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Neuroscience and brain imaging advances have shown that decreased movement of body parts leads to functional and structural changes in the brain. These neuronal representations of body parts are dynamically maintained, and changes in shape and size of body maps correlate to increased pain and disability. Neglect, increased fear-avoidance, and decreased use of body parts increases pain and disability, along with sensitization of the nervous system. This can result in extreme sensitivity to physical treatments such as hands-on therapy, exercise, etc. Neuroplasticity also provides hope. Body maps can be retrained within minutes. One strategy used in normalizing cortical maps is graded motor imagery (GMI), including normalizing laterality, motor imagery, mirror therapy, sensory discrimination, sensory integration, and more. The growing evidence shows the GMI program as a whole, or parts of it, can be used clinically to help desensitize a hypersensitive nervous system. This 90-minute session will showcase how brief GMI interventions can be readily applied in real-life clinics to accelerate the recovery of people struggling with pain.

Meet Your Instructor

  • Adriaan Louw, PT, PhD, CSMT

    Adriaan, co-founder and CEO of ISPI, earned both an undergraduate as well as a master’s degree in research and spinal surgery rehabilitation from the University of Stellenbosch in Cape Town, South Africa. He is a guest lecturer/adjunct faculty at Rockhurst University, St. Ambrose University, and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. In addition, he maintains a clinical practice and is co-owner of The Ortho Spine and Pain Clinic in Story City, Iowa. Adriaan has been teaching postgraduate, spinal manual therapy, and pain science classes throughout the US and internationally for 15 years. He is a Certified Spinal Manual Therapist through ISPI. In addition, Adriaan has presented at numerous national and international manual therapy, pain science, and medical conferences, and has authored and co-authored articles, books, and book chapters related to spinal disorders and pain science. Recently, Adriaan completed his Ph.D., which centers on therapeutic neuroscience education and spinal disorders.

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Chapters & Learning Objectives

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  1. The Clinical Dilemma: Too Hot to Handle

    1. The Clinical Dilemma: Too Hot to Handle

    A common feature in people suffering with pain is a heightened and sensitive nervous system; often rendering patients extremely sensitive to physical treatments, such as hands-on therapy, exercise, etc. This poses a significant challenge for health care providers. This chapter will showcase a series of clinical cases where patients afflicted with hypersensitivity are treated via a neuroplasticity treatment referred to as graded motor imagery (GMI).

  2. A Working Knowledge of Neuroplasticity

    2. A Working Knowledge of Neuroplasticity

    The human brain is plastic: ever-changing and adapting to its environment. This chapter will provide clinicians with a working knowledge of neuroplasticity and showcase what happens to the brain in the event of pain, fear of pain, decreased movement, and immobilization; all of which have a profound impact on the pain people experience.

  3. Assessing Altered Neuroplasticity in the Clinic

    3. Assessing Altered Neuroplasticity in the Clinic

    Neuroplastic and immune changes occur very fast after injury, and it is argued that many patients treated by health care providers have aspects of altered neuroplasticity processes in their clinical presentation. This chapter will showcase how working clinicians can use a series of clinical tests to assess sensitization of the nervous system, as well as neuroplastic changes associated with their pain experience.

  4. Desensitizing a Hypersensitive Nervous  System: Part One

    4. Desensitizing a Hypersensitive Nervous System: Part One

    The neuroplastic properties of the brain allow for treatment since they're... plastic. A series of “brain exercises” referred to as graded motor imagery (GMI) are used to help restore and normalize altered brain maps to ease pain. In this chapter, clinicians will be introduced to graded motor imagery, evidence of its effectiveness, and the building of a treatment plan. Treatment includes pain neuroscience education and restoring left/right discrimination (laterality).

  5. Desensitizing a Hypersensitive Nervous  System: Part Two

    5. Desensitizing a Hypersensitive Nervous System: Part Two

    Chapter five of this course builds on chapter four's discussion of graded motor imagery (GMI). In this chapter, treatment such as motor imagery, sensory discrimination, and mirror therapy will be discussed and showcased in an easy-to-apply clinical format.