In today’s blog, we examine a region of the brain responsible for coordinating movement—thecerebellum. When most people refer to the brain, they’re actually referring to the cerebral cortex: the occipital lobe, the frontal lobe, the parietal lobe, and the temporal lobe. Beneath these lobes, sitting underneath the occipital lobe at the back of the brain, is the cerebellum.
The cerebellum itself looks like a miniature version of the cerebral cortex, with two lobes surrounding either side of the brain stem. Its name actually comes from the Latin words meaning “little brain.” Like its shape and slightly more isolated location implies, the cerebellum serves an important part of the brain’s function, but not in the same way as the lobes of the cortex.
Like you may remember, the regions of the cerebral cortex receives information from their corresponding receptors: ears, skin, nose, tongue, eyes, etc. They process this information and send it to the frontal lobe, the “CEO” of the brain. The frontal lobe then creates a response to the information provided, and sends it down the brainstem to the rest of the body.
These “orders” from the frontal lobe is known as a Motor Plan—it contains information regarding what muscles need to contract, for what duration, and how intensely. While the brainstem is receiving this information, the Motor Plan is also sent on a separate neural path to the cerebellum. The cerebellum stores this information until it can receive the Position Sense from the body.
If you remember from our post on the parietal lobe, the brain receives information from the body regarding its position in space and how the body’s joints are arranged. The cerebellum also receives this information from the body’s receptors. This information, known as Position Sense, goes to the cerebellum where it compares the Motor Plan to the Position Sense.
Essentially, the cerebellum compares the body’s intended movement (Motor Plan) to its actual results (Position Sense). The cerebellum measures the accuracy of the body’s position to the frontal lobe’s information. Consider the precision and speed with which you can touch your nose. If you intend to touch your nose and poke your eye instead, that difference between intent and action is received by the cerebellum.
When the difference between the Motor Sense and Position Sense is received, the cerebellum sends the information—called Feedback—directly to the frontal lobe. This allows the brain to respond to the differences, correcting the body’s response. All of this processing, ideally, happens in milliseconds.
Have you considered what allows you to regain your balance after losing your footing? The cerebellum’s function is to ensure that your body can respond to a changing environment quickly and accurately. In this way, the cerebellum serves one of the most vital survival functions we have—the ability to adapt.
The cerebellum exhibits multiple signs when there is damage. One of the most common symptoms is ataxic gait. Ataxic gait manifests as wide, circular, staggering steps—this often causes people to fall towards the side of their cerebellum that is damaged. Another common sign of cerebellar damage is if a patient cannot stand still without their trunk swaying.
Dysmetria is another symptom of damage to the cerebellum. If a patient cannot touch their nose with their finger (or other precise movements) quickly, it is likely due to cerebellar damage. The inability to complete rapid alternating movements, such as clapping with the back and front of your hands quickly and repeatedly, is another symptom.
At Plasticity Brain Centers, we use movement tests and other diagnostic tools to locate any damage to your cerebellum. Our precise diagnostic tests allow us to apply specific therapies to rebuild or establish new neural pathways within your cerebellum. We employ a wide variety of movement therapies to address cerebellar damage, as all body movements are processed and coordinated by the cerebellum.
Return next week to read the next installment of our brain function series, focusing on the brainstem!