By Kate Willette: For Complete Post, Click Here…
Have you ever watched a 3-month-old baby in motion? Even lying on his back, it’s obvious that my new grandson doesn’t lack muscles. He’s definitely moving those limbs, but he has no control of them; he’s just thrashing. Control will come gradually as his young brain slowly builds the collection of networked cells that allow him to sense where his fingers and toes, hands and feet — all the bits of him — are located at any given moment. His process of swinging wildly at his mom’s dangling earring will change, in the space of weeks, to a smooth reach and a firm grab. Ouch.
The name we give to that inner sense of our own body in ever-changing relation to time and space is proprioception. It develops throughout infancy, childhood and adolescence by way of a feedback loop that involves using all the exterior senses to form a sophisticated, integrated series of networks inside the brain, literally constructed over time through trial and error. Spinal cord injury commonly steals proprioception, and that loss seems connected to one of SCI’s most difficult and demoralizing side effects: neuropathic pain.
How could neuropathic pain be related to proprioception? Can the constantly changing mental map of body position be restored, absent the ability to move or feel? And if that map is restored, would that somehow translate to reduced neuropathic pain?