The nervous system? Many of us recognise the words ‘nervous system’ but what really is it? Why is it so important? Without complicating the already complicated, our nervous system consists of our brain, spinal cord and nerves and it is responsible for everything in our body, conscious and unconscious.
If you imagine the spinal cord as a motor way between the brain and the body. Similar to cars on a motor way, messages or signals are continuously travelling up and down the spinal cord between the brain and the body.
The nervous system is a complex and intricate network within the human body responsible for regulating and coordinating various physiological processes. It plays a crucial role in communication, enabling the body to respond to internal and external stimuli efficiently. Understanding the nervous system is fundamental to comprehending how our bodies function and adapt to the environment. In this blog post, we will explore the components, structure, and functions of the nervous system.
- Overview of the Nervous System: The nervous system is a sophisticated network comprising specialized cells called neurons and glial cells. Its primary function is to transmit electrical and chemical signals, allowing for rapid communication between different parts of the body. It is divided into two main parts: the central nervous system (CNS) and the peripheral nervous system (PNS).
- Central Nervous System (CNS): The CNS consists of the brain and the spinal cord, which are protected by the skull and spinal column, respectively. The brain is the control centre for all bodily functions, while the spinal cord acts as a relay and integration centre for signals between the brain and the rest of the body.
- Peripheral Nervous System (PNS): The PNS extends throughout the body and includes nerves and ganglia outside the CNS. It connects the CNS to various organs, muscles, and sensory receptors, enabling the transmission of signals to and from the brain and spinal cord.
- Components of the Nervous System:
- Neurons: Neurons, also known as nerve cells, are the building blocks of the nervous system. They are responsible for transmitting signals in the form of electrical impulses. Neurons have a unique structure with dendrites (receiving end), a cell body (processing centre), and an axon (transmitting end). The axon is coated with a myelin sheath, which facilitates faster signal transmission.
- Glial Cells: Glial cells, or neuroglia, provide support and protection to neurons. They outnumber neurons and play essential roles in maintaining the overall health and functionality of the nervous system. Glial cells aid in insulation, nutrient supply, and repair processes within the nervous system.
III. Functions of the Nervous System
To carry out its normal role, the nervous system has three overlapping functions.
- Monitoring changes.Much like a sentry, it uses its millions of sensory receptors to monitor changes occurring both inside and outside the body; these changes are called stimuli, and the gathered information is called sensory input.
- Interpretation of sensory input.It processes and interprets the sensory input and decides what should be done at each moment, a process called integration.
- Effects responses.It then effects a response by activating muscles or glands (effectors) via motor output.
- Mental activity.The brain is the centre of mental activity, including consciousness, thinking, and memory.
- Homeostasis.This function depends on the ability of the nervous system to detect, interpret, and respond to changes in internal and external conditions. It can help stimulate or inhibit the activities of other systems to help maintain a constant internal environment.
Anatomy of the Nervous System
The nervous system does not work alone to regulate and maintain body homeostasis; the endocrine system is a second important regulating system.
The structural classification, which includes all of the nervous system organs, has two subdivisions- the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system.
- Central nervous system (CNS).The CNS consists of the brain and spinal cord, which occupy the dorsal body cavity and act as the integrating and command centers of the nervous system
- Peripheral nervous system (PNS).The PNS, the part of the nervous system outside the CNS, consists mainly of the nerves that extend from the brain and spinal cord.
Our brain has to be able to “see” what is happening in our body at all times so that it can control everything. The brain creates a picture of the body’s internal structure based on all of the messages it receives and then, based on this picture , sends an appropriate message back. Messages are continuously flowing up the spinal cord to update the picture and so that actions can be continuously carried out. Examples of these actions include the things we think about, like moving the body but also things that we don’t think about like our heart beating or the digestion of food.
It is important that our brain receives accurate messages from the body so that we can perform accurate actions. If the messages are not clear then the picture our brain creates might not be a true representative of what is really happening and ultimately the brain sends an inaccurate message back down to the body. Mixed messages might not seem like such a big problem but when these messages are relaying information used for co-ordination or information on our hormone levels, mixed messages can mean crisis for the body.
The spine is known for giving the body structure but it is not often given credit for the role it plays in ensuring the brain receives these messages from the body. What we have to remember is that the spinal cord runs right through the middle of the spine and has a very close relationship to it. Research has shown us that when a spinal segment is moving properly, it appears to influence how the brain perceives and responds to all of the other messages it is getting from the body.
If you have experienced certain stressors like a physical injury, lots of work stress or even repetitive faulty postures, the small muscles that attach into the spine can be pulled tight. When this happens the vertebrae is now twisted and will either be struggling to move or might even be moving too much. Like we said before, a healthy moving vertebra helps relay information to the brain, so when the spine loses movement, your brain stops getting accurate information from the spine.
The nervous system plays a role in nearly every aspect of our health and well-being. It guides everyday activities such as waking up; automatic activities such as breathing; and complex processes such as thinking, reading, remembering, and feeling emotions.
The nervous system controls:
- Brain growth and development
- Sensations (such as touch or hearing)
- Perception (the mental process of interpreting sensory information)
- Thought and emotions
- Learning and memory
- Movement, balance, and coordination
- Healing and rehabilitation
- Stress and the body’s responses to stress
- Breathing and heartbeat
- Body temperature
- Hunger, thirst, and digestion
- Puberty, reproductive health, and fertility
The nervous system is an intricate and essential communication network within the human body. Its complexity and functions are vital to our overall well-being, enabling us to interact with our environment and maintain a state of homeostasis. Understanding the structure and functions of the nervous system provides valuable insight into the fundamental processes that govern our bodily functions and behaviour.
Chiropractors can make small corrections to the spine (called an adjustment) to ensure optimal performance is restored which in turn allows the nervous system to function properly.
Have you had your spine and nervous system checked?