The Synapse – Brainspotting, Exercise for Migraines, and Learning Motor Skills

By Dan Peterson

Welcome to a new weekly feature here at Axon Potential, The Synapse, which will be your  connection to the latest Athletic Brain news and research.

Brainspotting – A Promising Treatment for Sports Trauma
During a game with the Atlanta Braves in 1990, Mets catcther Mackey Sasser was on the receiving end of collision at home plate with a Braves base-runner. Shortly after, he began an peculiar habit of double-clutching on his throws back to the pitcher. He tried traditional physical therapy, psychological counseling and other methods to stop this subconscious habit. He turned to Dr. David Grand who had created a new neurobehavioral treatment he called brainspotting or BSP.

Mackey Sasser

Mackey Sasser

As described in a recent Podium Sports Journal article, BSP’s underpinnings reside in neurology and the neurophysiological pathways within the human field of vision:

“It began with the development of EMDR. Most neurologists, psychologists, and other trauma experts will readily recognize the use of EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) as a widely accepted technique in dealing with the variety of emotional, neurological and physical symptoms resulting from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. EMDR recognized that the eyes are the windows into which trauma is recorded into the nervous system. It is only logical that the neural pathways in the visual fields of each eye link directly to the nervous system and is associated with virtually all cognitive, emotional, and sensori-motor functions. To say that the visual field is integral to our nervous system is an understatement.”

The therapy used with Sasser involved fixating eye positions with mindfullness training to help him overcome his subconscious arm movements.

“These eye positions, or Brainspots, may through maintaining eye fixation, lead to a healing and resolution of issues that are held deeply in the non-verbal, non-cognitive areas of the neurophysiology. BSP utilizes both activation and focused mindfulness as its mechanisms of operation. It aims at a full, comprehensive discharge of activation held in the brain and body.”

Exercise Can Help Alleviate Migraine Headaches
Swedish researchers have concluded that aerobic exercise for 40 minutes, three times per week can help reduce migraine episodes just as well as traditional medication or relaxation techniques. Ninety migraine patients were divided equally among three test groups, one each for exercise, medication (topiramate) and relaxation. The patients’ migraine status, quality of life, aerobic capacity and level of phyical activity were evaluated before, during and after their treatment.

After three months, the results showed that migraines had dropped in all three groups, with the exercise treatment showing equal success with the other two groups. “Our conclusion is that exercise can act as an alternative to relaxations and topiramate when it comes to preventing migraines, and is particularly appropriate for patients who are unwilling or unable to take preventative medicines,” says Emma Varkey, the physiotherapist and doctoral student at the Sahlgrenska Academy who carried out the study.

“Learning to Learn” Motor Skills
In a creative study meant to help stroke patients learn to walk again after one side of their body is weakened, scientists at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine have noticed an interesting motor skill learning technique.

Using a split-belt treadmill, where one belt can move at a different speed than the other, they split 52 health adults into three test groups. The first group spent 15 minutes learning how to walk with the two belts moving at constant but different speeds. The second group alternated their 15 minutes between belts at different speeds and belts at the same speed. A third group split their time equally between their right leg moving faster, then their left leg moving faster.

After 24 hours, all three groups returned to the lab to test how quickly they could adapt to the unusual walking pattern of the belts at different speeds. The second “switch” group, who alternated between identical and different speeds relearned the walking pattern faster than the first “identical” group that walked at constant but different speeds. The third group also peformed better than the first group.

“The people in the switch group ‘learned to learn’ by experiencing more of the awkward, limping leg pattern that occurs right after a switch in speeds,” said lead researcher Amy Bastian, PhD.

“It is particularly intriguing that these effects are specific to the early, more cognitively demanding stages of learning,” added Rachael Seidler, PhD, a motor learning expert at the University of Michigan, who was unaffiliated with the study.

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