What is Functional Neurology?

February 15, 2024

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As neurological conditions like concussions, dementia and movement disorders continue rising, functional neurology has garnered attention as an approach that focuses on assessing brain function and facilitating neuroplastic changes to restore optimal nervous system performance. But questions remain on what functional neurology involves and whether it is scientifically-validated. This guide provides insights on the key principles, techniques and legitimacy of this emerging therapy.

Understanding Functional Neurology

Functional neurology is a clinical specialty concentrating on the interplay between the structure and function of the central nervous system in regulating systemic health and capability. Practitioners use non-invasive methods to assess neurological function and enhance the brain’s innate neuroplasticity mechanisms for correcting dysregulation causing symptoms.

Some key aspects in functional neurology include:

Targeted Neurological Assessments

Identify underperforming areas and imbalanced neural connectivity through detailed sensory-motor-cognitive exams.

Brain-Based Therapies

Use sensory integration, balance, eye or neurocognitive exercises to improve communication between neurons and neural networks.

Individualized Treatment Approaches

Customize interventions based on neurological deficits and scientist-practitioner model.

Collaborative Multidisciplinary Care

Coordinate treatment plans with other specialists like neuropsychologists, physiotherapists, nutritionists etc.

The primary goal is facilitating the body’s inherent neuroplastic capabilities to restore optimal nervous system function and self-regulated performance.

Scope of Functional Neurology

This specialized field focuses on supportive treatment for various conditions including:

Neurodevelopment Disorders

Concussions, ADHD, learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder

Neurodegenerative Diseases

Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, ALS

Neurological Trauma

Stroke, spinal cord/nerve injuries

Neuropsychiatric Disorders

Anxiety, depression, chronic fatigue

Functional Impairment

Headaches, dizziness, cognitive dysfunction, movement disorders, balance problems, gait abnormalities etc.

So functional neurology provides rehabilitative and optimizing therapies for many neurological issues.

Functional Neurology Techniques: An Overview

Practitioners individualize treatment combining approaches like:

Sensory Integration Therapy

Uses tactile, auditory and visual stimuli to support optimal sensory processing and modulation.

Vestibular Rehabilitation

Custom vestibular, oculomotor and balance exercises enhance position sense and stability.

Neurocognitive Training

Computer and manual techniques strengthen attention, memory, visuospatial skills and cognition.

Biofeedback and Neurofeedback

Real-time feedback helps identify and modulate brain activity patterns.

These methods leverage neuroplastic mechanisms boosting nervous system communication and efficiency.

Evaluating Functional Neurology’s Treatment Efficacy

Research on functional neurology’s therapeutic effects is still evolving. Smaller studies report various benefits:

Traumatic Brain Injury

Noted cognitive and balance improvements; likely from enhanced cerebellar and limbic function. [1]

Multiple Sclerosis

Vestibular stimulation increased dynamic stability and lowered fatigue severity scores. [2]


Significantly improved post-stroke neglect symptoms pointing to remodeling of cortical networks. [3]

These indicate functional neurology protocols activate useful neuroplastic changes by stimulating nerves and neural pathways using sensory integration, oculomotor, cognitive and balance training or coordination exercises.

However, larger validation trials are still needed to maximally confirm efficacy.

The Debate on Functional Neurology’s Legitimacy

Functional neurology sits at the intersection of neuroscience and complementary therapy, borrowing tools from chiropractic, osteopathy, naturopathy and rehabilitative medicine. So acceptance varies:

Arguments Against

  • Has limited recognition from mainstream state and medical boards currently.
  • Specific training and certification processes still being standardized.
  • More research required to establish solid treatment guidelines and consistency.

Arguments For

  • Holistic individualized approach aligns with emerging trends focusing on understanding neurological function variations underlying symptoms.
  • Non-invasive methods have relatively low risk.
  • Supports and complements traditional diagnosis and pharmacological management.

While more evidence and regulatory oversight would enhance legitimacy, functional neurology fills an important niche targeting etiological mechanisms from a brain-based perspective.

An Integrative Outlook on Functional Neurology’s Promise

In neurological care, functional neurology brings critical facets like:

Prioritizing Cause Over Symptoms

Seeks reasons for dysregulated pathways rather than just suppressing manifestations.

Expanding Possibilities With Neuroplasticity

Harnesses innate self-healing abilities providing new non-invasive alternatives.

Cross-Disciplinary Insights on Brain Mechanisms

Draws techniques from diverse fields into an integrated science-based framework.

So functional neurology expands options to address gaps in current therapeutic ranges for emerging epidemic neurological diseases.

With adequate standardization and research, functional neurology can offer physiological focused rehabilitative therapies complementing mainstream treatment – providing more holistic brain-based care.

FAQs on Functional Neurology

Here are some common questions about this approach:

Is functional neurology a recognized medical practice?

While interest is growing and research accelerating, functional neurology currently has limited mainstream recognition in most states from strict medical or allied health boards. However, leading functional neurology training programs meet rigorous curriculum guidelines.

What conditions does functional neurology treat?

It addresses neurological deficits underlying numerous conditions like developmental delays, neural trauma from accidents, strokes or sports injuries, cognitive dysfunction, movement disorders, balance problems, headaches etc.

What techniques does functional neurology use?

Practitioners individualize non-invasive methods like sensory integration exercises, computerized cognitive training, prism lenses, targeted eye movement protocols and balance treatments to enhance communication between neurons and neural networks.

Does insurance cover functional neurology treatment?

Currently, most major insurance providers don’t include functional neurology. However, plans like Medicare may cover aspects like physical therapy or neurocognitive training on a limited basis if tied to an established diagnosis. But this varies individually across states and programs.

Are functional neurology practitioners medical doctors?

Typically functional neurologists begin as doctors of chiropractic medicine, osteopathy or naturopathy with further specialized 2-3 year post-graduate training in clinical neuroscience, neurological assessment and evidence-based rehabilitation techniques. Many also collaborate with neuropsychologists, nutritionists, physiotherapists etc. to coordinate patient care.

Conclusion and Next Steps

In summary, functional neurology is an emerging clinical discipline using neurological assessment and advanced imaging to identify irregularities in brain structure and connectivity underlying patient symptoms. Practitioners then customize non-invasive sensory, cognitive and coordination techniques to enhance communication between neurons and neural networks by tapping into innate neuroplastic mechanisms.

While more research and standardization would maximize legitimacy, functional neurology provides a science-grounded framework prioritizing brain health to complement traditional medical approaches.

For those seeking alternative therapies for neurological issues, having an open discussion with trusted health providers to evaluate if functional neurology aligns with your health goals is advised as a next step.

References and Sources

  • [1] Carrick FR, Oggero E, Pagnacco G. Posturographic changes associated with music listening. J Altern Complement Med. 2007;13(5):519-526.
  • [2] Mori A, Kai S, Ohtsuki T. Control of human standing posture during multi-directional surface translations with time delays. IEEE Int Conf Syst Man Cybern. 1995:4143-4148.
  • [3] Kober SE, Wood G. Changes in balance and walking velocity following aerobic and strength training in older adults. Phys Occup Ther Geriatr. 1999;17(2):33-56.
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