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posted: 4/28/2010 12:01 AM

Brain, nervous systems work together to help you move

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  • The cerebrum is the part of the brain that controls movement. It sends messages using through the central and peripheral nervous systems to muscles, telling them when and how to move.

      The cerebrum is the part of the brain that controls movement. It sends messages using through the central and peripheral nervous systems to muscles, telling them when and how to move.

 

Fifth-grade students in Kate Crawford's class at West Oak Middle School in Mundelein asked: "How does your brain help you move?"

The main player in the story about the brain and movement is the cerebrum - the largest part of the brain and the part that controls movement, thinking and memory.

Linking the brain's messages about movement to the muscles in your body is the central and peripheral nervous system. It uses the spinal cord and nerves as a highway to connect messages to muscles and directs them to make movement happen.

"The foundation for the central nervous system is completed during the fourth week of gestation with closure of the neural tube," said Dr. Tord Alden, neurosurgeon at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago and assistant professor at Northwestern University.

Other parts of the brain contribute to the process of movement, Dr. Alden said.

"The cerebrum, thalamus, cerebellum, brainstem, spinal cord and nerve roots that direct messages through the peripheral nerves to the muscles are all important players involved in movement," he said. These parts are in constant communication to manufacture movement and then soften and fine tune motions to make them fluid.

Some movements are voluntary, like bending your arm and then extending your fingers and cupping them around a pencil. Some are involuntary, like gulping for more air after running down a basketball court while dribbling and then leaping to the net for a dunk.

"You are always learning and improving on movement," Dr. Alden said. "An example is sports figures who can still develop after they've stopped growing."

When illness like a stroke or an injury harms the parts of the brain that control movement, Dr. Alden said, "The brain is always learning, revising and adjusting; this is called neural plasticity. When one part of the brain stops working, another part can start doing that function. How well that other part of the brain takes up that function is dependent on the location injured."

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