Knowing this one thing will change the way you think about your body

If you have a body and would either like to 1) maintain the movement you currently have, or 2) get back movement that you've lost, you should have a very basic understanding of cortical maps, or body/neural maps.

Cortical maps are areas of your brain that are dedicated to moving and sensing certain parts of your body. There are two: the somatosensory homunculus (we’ll call that one the feeling map) and the motor homunculus (we’ll call that one the moving map).

The feeling brain map (somatosensory homunculus)

This map relates to the physical sensations we feel throughout our body. For example, the tip of our right pointer finger has a section in our somatosensory cortex that is dedicated to its ability to feel.

The moving brain map (motor homunculus)

The motor homunculus is in charge of mapping our movement. For that same right pointer finger, it also has a section in our motor cortex that is dedicated to its ability to move.

If you don’t use it, you lose it

Our cortical maps can change over time based on the way we habitually move, or perceive our bodies. This is where the phrase "If you don't use it, you lose it" comes into play.

For example, if the neural maps dedicated to wiggling your left pinky (separate from the rest of your fingers) are not used, that area of the brain will be recruited to perform some other function, and you won't be able to move your left pinky by itself anymore (I totally can’t move mine on it’s own).

Or if you injure your shoulder and you no longer have the ability to do a full rotation, like you used to be able to do, that movement may have become unmapped in your motor cortex.

You can get your movement back

The really cool part about all of this is that even if we’ve lost certain movements, we have the ability to get them back, because our brain can change! The more consistent demand we place on moving these body parts (in a gentle way—don’t go beating yourself up), the more real estate those parts will inhabit in our brains.

There’s more to come on this topic, including ways to start adding in gentle movement, to regain any lost movement you may have experienced.

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Who is Kristen Stephen?

Kristen Stephen is a bodyworker, practicing integrative manual therapy, in Nederland, Colorado. Her mission is to help people live lives with less pain and more joy.

Please note, all material on this website is for for educational and informational purposes only, and should not be taken as medical advice.

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