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Episode 4: Unravelling the Body Schema

The Neurophysiological Marvel Behind Our Knowledge of Where We Are In Space.


BBTA Tutors: Clare Fraser and Debbie Strang


As we effortlessly reach for a bottle of water, our brains engage in an intricate dance of signals and feedback that orchestrate a seemingly simple task. At the core of this remarkable feat lies the concept of "body schema," a fundamental concept in neuroscience that sheds light on how we understand what “position” we are in, and how we relate to the world around us.

Italian neuroscientist Alessandro Maravita's work has been instrumental in unravelling the mysteries of the body schema and its crucial role in achieving an efficient reach and grasp in a functional task.

In essence, the body schema can be thought of as a mental map or representation of our bodies, including its size, shape, and orientation in space. This internal model is continuously updated via sensory feedback and movement experiences, allowing us to navigate our surroundings effectively. Maravita's ground breaking research provided valuable insights into how the brain constructs and refines this internal map, enabling us to perform complex motor tasks with remarkable precision.

On the recent Advanced Bobath Course at Walkergate Park in Newcastle, the topic focused on the rehabilitation of reach, grasp, release, and manipulation in the upper limb and hand, in our neurological patients. We explored the neurophysiology that supports postural and movement control in achieving these functional tasks.

When we reach for a water bottle, the brain utilizes various neurophysiological systems in a synchronized manner. First, the somatosensory system gathers real-time information about the position and movement of our limbs. This sensory input is then integrated with the body schema, which acts as a reference frame for understanding the spatial relationship between our body and the target object.

Next, the brain's motor system comes into play, generating a finely tuned sequence of muscle contractions required for the grasp. Maravita's studies highlighted the critical role of the posterior parietal cortex in this process. This region not only contributes to the body schema but also plays a pivotal role in transforming sensory information into appropriate motor commands for reaching and grasping.

(With permission: Using tools and a sensory environment to develop body schema for movement control in a meaningful functional task)

The body schema is a dynamic construct, capable of adapting to changes in our bodies and within our environments. Neuroplasticity allows the brain to adjust the body schema based on alterations in limb length or even when using tools, like a fork or a pen. This adaptability ensures that we can efficiently interact with objects of various shapes and sizes, such as reaching for a tiny button or a bulky water bottle.

In conclusion, neuroscience's understanding of the body schema, especially through the contribution of Alessandro Maravita, has highlighted to neuro-therapists that sensory information feeding into patient’s body schematics is crucial for the efficient functioning of every day tasks. Working to improve limb and joint alignment and the patient’s interaction with the supporting surface, together with the interplay of stability for selective movement, creates the background posture and ‘setting’ for efficient function.

Understanding the concept of body schema allows us to gain a deeper appreciation for the complexity and sophistication of Systems control and human movement performance. As researchers continue to dive into the workings of the brain, we can anticipate even more fascinating revelations about the body schema and its influence on our everyday actions.

If you would like to understand more about the neurophysiology of human movement control why not sign up to a Bobath Course, containing neurophysiology lectures, human movement analysis practical sessions, patient demonstrations and patient treatment sessions. Look at our website for more information: www.bbta.org.uk.



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