Stages of Neuroplasticity
But neuroplasticity is a bit more complex than just ‘the brain’s ability to rewire itself’. It involves a few different periods of change in structure, function, and development from the moment of injury and it can be helpful to know this process. Traditionally, it’s thought to occur in 3 different phases which are based on rough periods of time.
1) The First 48 Hours: initial damage which results in cell death. The brain then uses secondary neural networks to try to maintain functioning.
2) The Following Weeks: Support cells are recruited to help shift the cortical pathways from inhibitory to excitatory. This is basically the ‘go-ahead’ for your brain to use and create new networks and pathways instead of the injured pathways. Neural plasticity occurs during this time.
3) Weeks to Years After: Axonal sprouting and further reorganizing around the damage continues (often through continued rehabilitation).
This process of axonal sprouting and reorganizing tends to slow down the more time passes from the point of initial injury, making recovery a slower and more time consuming process. This makes sense when you consider how many survivors have a significant or serious loss of functioning immediately after a brain injury, followed by a swift recovery the follow weeks and months, and finally a slower recovery after the one year mark.
This isn’t to say that recovery is impossible after a year after a stroke or traumatic brain injury. In fact, it’s the opposite. This plasticity, this ability to reform and create new connections in the brain, can be achieved years and years after the fact and can be positive influenced by exercise, motivation, repetition of tasks, and environment.
While neuroplasticity can be fantastic for stroke and TBI to restore function to the body, it’s important to remember it’s not ALL beneficial. In fact, there’s the possibility of maladaptive plasticity.
What is maladaptive plasticity? It’s when the brain makes new connections or pathways that result in a negative symptom. A good example of this would be phantom pain or dystonia (involuntary contract of muscles or muscle spasms). This can occur when the non-affected side (paralyzed or weakened side) is use overly more than the affected side, thus creating neural pathways and connections that inhibit the affected side from gaining function.
So it’s important to maintain a consistent routine and practice with your rehabilitation!
And remember, recovery is possible at EVERY stage after a brain injury 🙂
Sources: Introduction to Neurons and Neural Pathways; NIH Article: Neuroplasticity; NIH Article: Maladaptive Plasticity;
Did you know that yoga has been shown to be beneficial for stroke and TBI in helping reduce stress, anxiety, and depression and to help improve mobility and balance. It also fosters neuroplasticity through movement, breath work, and mind-body connection. Learn more about our online chair yoga classes specifically for Stroke and TBI here!