The neural-edge is a pretty big deal, but is one of the things I feel many people fresh or recently out of their level one seminar turn to as they start getting a handle on things and find some confusion. What exactly is the neural edge, why does it exist, and in what way do we interact with it to best treat our patients without overdoing it?

The motor control center is the feedback element of our neurological movement system; the part of it that actually responds to changing conditions and stimulus and alters its strategy accordingly. When we do a muscle test that fails (aka we ask the body to execute a function but it cannot figure out how) and we show it via an appropriate TL how to properly carry out the test (function) it will learn and change it’s motor pattern for that specific function. If we keep reminding it that this is how we want to do this function without losing stability, and we integrate it into our daily or sports functional movement patterns, we have made a successful correction.

Just as with any other part of your brain, however, you can only cram in so much at once before it gets a bit ‘tired’ in the same way that you an only absorb so much information in one sitting whether it’s in a classroom, a martial arts studio, or the massage table. If we try to make the MCC make too many changes at once, it will only absorb some of them, or may even compromise it’s ability to hold onto anything. This would be taking it past the ‘neural edge’ in one capacity, and is why we try to stick to only 2-3 real corrections that we reinforce during a single session; meaning I may find many relationships but I will only really try to do full releases and corrections for 2-3 main relationships (typically those which give the most global stability, and the most local stability to their area of pain/dysfunction, or the area most vital in it’s causal hierarchy).

Another important aspect of the neural edge is within the patient’s homework. If a patient is doing, say, release of the illiacus followed by corrective exercise for the ipsilateral psoas, but instead of going to their first fatigue and only executing a set or two, they go until the muscle is burning and they do five sets several times a day…this is an obvious case of passing the neural edge. I like to describe this to clients with a metaphor. Lets say you go on maternity leave for some time, and come back to your job and are getting settled back in. If you’re still getting poor sleep (as happens often with new children!) or just aren’t caught up to speed with the changes that have happened in your job, your boss may not be confident in your ability to fully take over your old responsibilities. If the job is important and fast paced, it is all the more likely. If you mess up or get pushed beyond your ability to do the job when you return, especially if it’s over and over, your boss is just going to keep your temporary replacement doing the work. Take your homework too far and keep messing up, and you will just reinforce the compensation and make everything all the worse.

So what is our body/rehab equivalent? We’ve taken your inhibited muscle and shown the MCC (your manager) that you are ready to come back to work, but if every time you go to use it, you over use it and with its lowered endurance/strength/neural connectivity, the MCC has no choice but to put a facilitated compensator back to work. If you take a previously inhibited muscle past its ‘confidence point’ it will be compensated for. This is why we start slow and don’t over do things: we want to regain the MCC’s confidence to use that muscle in those patterns. By starting with lower intensity and duration we are able to get the muscle ‘back up to speed’ without blowing the confidence of it’s neurological manager.

Work to the neural edge, both on the table and with the patients homework assignment for the quickest, most comprehensive and lasting changes. Impress on your client both the need for consistency and the need for restraint. The goldilocks rule definitely applies. When it comes to learning the skill and making the correction in the first place it’s just like any other skill. If you only walk on ice a couple days a year then the brain isn’t likely to keep your ice walking skills. If you do it for a month or two a year…good chance they will stick around. The same thing goes for their homework, within the constraints of the neural edge. Consistency shows the brain that this is a movement strategy of value that we will want to hang on to, especially for these specific functions. For my patients this means twice a day releases are done, followed immediately by the relevant homework activation to the very first fatigue. After 30-60 seconds rest, they repeat the exercise once. Variation in volume maximum is observed if they get too sore.

Filed under: The Practitioners Corner

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