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Is the Brain a Muscle?

The myth that you only use 10% of your brain isn't true. We use various parts of our brains depending on the task we perform at any given time.

If the work involves plenty of mental activity, you're using multiple parts of your brain simultaneously. Minor tasks, however, use less cognitive activity. 

We mention this because we don't know much about brain functions or the brain in general - many people still think we only use 10% of our brains. For example, "Is the brain a muscle?" is a question many people ask. 

Succinctly put, no, the brain is not a muscle. But you probably want to know more about your brain and how it works than, "no, it's not a muscle."

Keep reading if you're interested in learning more about brain health and anatomy. We'll discuss brain anatomy, brain functions, and brain health in depth in the article below. 

Is the Brain a Muscle? 

You may have heard the colloquialism "your brain is like a muscle," but as stated previously - your brain is not a muscle. On the contrary, your brain is an organ. 

Your large and small intestines, stomach, lungs, pancreas, etc. are typically what you'd think of when you hear the term "organ." In reality, the skin, bones, and brain are also bodily organs. 

Interestingly, while your brain isn't a muscle, muscles are also organs. Muscles are groups of muscle tissues bound together by epimysium. Epimysium is a tough connective tissue comparable to cartilage. 

An organ is a group of combined tissues that perform a specific function inside your body. Your brain's job is to oversee memory, thought, emotion, hunger, touch, motor skills, breathing, vision, and temperature. 

A healthy brain manages every process that keeps our bodies alive and functioning. The brain and spinal cord together compose the central nervous system or CNS. 

Central Nervous System | CignaPhoto Sourced From Here.

What Is the Brain Made Of? 

The average adult brain is approximately three pounds. The organ is composed of 60% fat. The other 40% is carbohydrates, salt, water, and protein. 

The human brain doesn't contain muscular tissue but blood vessels and nerves, such as neurons. Neurons are cells that communicate with other cells through specialized connective tissue called synapses. 

Synapses (neuronal junctions) are nerve cell connections transmitting electrical impulses. These electrical impulses are what communicate information throughout your body. 

Nerve ImpulsesPhoto Sourced from Here.

There are also specialized cells called glia that "oversee" certain brain functions and support nerve damage recovery. There is much to cover about glial cells, so we'll discuss them in detail later. 

Grey and White Matter

Gray matter (substantia grisea) and white matter (substantia alma) are two parts of the central nervous system. Grey matter is the darker outer lining of the brain. White matter is the lighter-colored internal tissue underneath. 

The positions of grey and white matter are reversed inside the CNS. An open spinal cord cross-section reveals a distinctive "butterfly" shape. The grey matter inside this butterfly splits into four sections:

  • The dorsal horn receives and sends signals from the body to the brain
  • The ventral horn contains motor neurons that provide nerves to skeletal muscles
  • The intermediate column and lateral horn innervate pelvic and visceral organs

Gray Matter of the Spinal Cord - Labster TheoryPhoto Sourced from Here.

Next, we'll discuss the white matter surrounding the grey matter butterfly. Your spinal cord white matter splits into three columns.

The first column is the dorsal column that transmits information from mechanoreceptors, cells that respond to mechanical pressure. 

Lateral columns contain axons (also called corticospinal tracts) that travel from the brain and connect to motor neurons. The final column is the ventral column which transmits pain, temperature, and motor information.

Grey and White Matter Composition 

To understand the composition of grey and white matter, we've got to dive into a bit of brain anatomy. Grey matter mainly contains somas, the round central bodies of neurons. 

White matter is primarily axons or long stems that connect neurons. Axons are covered in a substance called myelin. Myelin is lipid-rich and helps electrical impulses travel among neurons more rapidly. 

Grey and white matter have separate brain functions. Grey matter's job is to process and analyze information. White matter is responsible for transmitting information throughout the nervous system

How Does Your Brain Work? 

Think of your brain as a hub that sends and receives chemical and electrical signals through your body. Different signals promote processes that your brain interprets in different ways. 

The electrical signals from your brain move throughout your nervous system and enable muscle movement. Picking up a pencil is an example of electrical signals at work. 

Chemical signals control specific functions like sleep and hunger. For example, your brain produces melatonin at night to promote sleep. 

Your stomach releases ghrelin - or the hunger hormone -  and sends it to the brain to tell the organ you're hungry. 

Sending signals across your body requires billions of neurons. Once, scientists thought a healthy brain had over 100 billion neurons. Now, they estimate the human brain has roughly 86 billion neurons

Curious Kids: how does our brain send signals to our body?Photo Sourced from Here.

Brain Anatomy and Function

A truncated explanation of brain anatomy splits the organ into three parts. There is the cerebrum, brainstem, and cerebellum. The cerebrum (front of the brain) contains grey matter with white matter underneath. 

Your cerebrum is the biggest part of your brain and is where bodily movement starts and is coordinated.

The cerebrum also controls temperature and enables; judgment, speech, problem-solving, thinking and reasoning, emotions, and learning. Your cerebrum also accommodates vision, touch, and hearing.

Cerebral Cortex

The cerebral cortex is the proper term for the outer layer of grey matter. The brain's cerebral cortex splits into the right and left hemispheres. The two halves meet at a prominent sulcus (fold) called the interhemispheric ridge.

Cerebral Cortex Damage: Definition, Symptoms, and RecoveryPhoto Sourced from Here.

You may recall the wrinkles on the brain; these are gyri (ridges) and sulci (folds). Scientists say your brain has wrinkles to increase neurons' surface area.

The right hemisphere controls the left side of your body, and the right hemisphere controls the left side. Both hemispheres communicate via a C-shaped structure (corpus callosum) located in the center of the cerebrum. 

Brainstem

The brainstem (middle of your brain) connects the cerebrum to the spinal cord. The brainstem has three parts: the midbrain, pons, and medulla.

The midbrain contains various neuron clusters and enables movement, environmental responsiveness, and response calculation. The pons contains four cranial nerves that regulate:

  • Blinking
  • Facial expressions
  • Focusing vision
  • Chewing
  • Balance
  • Hearing

The pons connects the midbrain and medulla, at the bottom of your brainstem. It controls essential bodily functions like breathing, blood flow, and heart rhythm. 

What is the Brain? For Kids | Information and ResourcesPhoto Sourced from Here.

Your medulla is also responsible for:

  • Oxygen
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Swallowing

Your medulla is necessary for survival. Not only does it regulate many of your bodily functions, but it relays signals between your brain and spinal cord. 

Cerebellum

Your cerebellum - or little brain - is approximately the size of your fist. Your brain's cerebellum is between the temporal and occipital lobes at the back of your head. 

The temporal lobe (or neocortex) helps process sensory input to help with visual memory retention, emotional association, and language comprehension.

Your occipital lobe processes and interprets what you see. Your "little brain" has two hemispheres. The outer portion of your cerebellum contains neurons, and the internal part "speaks" to the cerebral cortex.

It's the cerebellum's job to help retain posture, coordination, and equilibrium. 

Brain Coverings

Meninges: Function and Layers, and Health ProblemsPhoto Sourced from Here.

There are three protective layers covering the brain and spinal cord. These three layers are called the meninges and consist of the dura, arachnoid, and pia mater. 

The first layer - the dura - is tough and consists of two layers: the periosteal, which is beneath the skull, and the underlying meningeal coating.

The arachnoid is the second layer and is named for its web-like consistency. These connective tissues lack nerves or blood vessels. 

Under the arachnoid is the cerebrospinal fluid that cushions your entire spinal system and removes impurities from these structures via circulation. 

The pia mater is the final brain protective covering that hugs the organ's contours. The pia mater has a multitude of veins and arteries. 

You may be familiar with meningitis - a condition that causes the meninges surrounding your brain and spinal cord to swell. Meningitis negatively impacts brain health and may lead to fevers, light sensitivity, and seizures. 

Meningitis can occur from several causes. The most common types of meningitis are viral and bacterial. They happen when viruses and bacteria infect the meninges and cerebrospinal fluid. 

Non-infectious meningitis can happen because of other health conditions and treatments. Head injuries, such as car accidents or sports injuries, can sometimes cause swelling around the meninges.

Glial Cells and Brain Plasticity

Remember glial cells from earlier? These cells help regulate nerve firing rates and immune responses. The term glial is Greek for "glue." Nineteenth-century scientists thought they served a structural function inside the brain. 

Now, it's known that glial cells aid central and peripheral nervous system regulation. The principal role of the peripheral nervous system (PNS) is to connect the CNS to your organs.

Glial cells increase and decrease synaptic activity by managing oxygen, neurotransmitters, and ion absorption. Glial cells also contribute to brain plasticity by providing nutrients and insulation for neurons. 

Brain plasticity (or neuroplasticity) is the brain's ability to modify and re-wire. Without the ability brain's ability to create new connections and adapt to new situations, you could not develop from infancy to adulthood. 

Brain plasticity happens from when you're a newborn and occurs throughout a person's life, but the brain undergoes the most change in childhood

Brain Plasticity and Traumatic Brain Injury

Neuroplasticity is a normal brain function that can help recover from traumatic brain injuries (TBIs). TBIs, like sports injuries, may kill nerve cells because of a lack of blood flow to the patient's brain. 

Neuroplasticity: How to Use Your Brain's Malleability to Improve Your  Well-beingPhoto Sources from Here.

Nerve cells are notorious for their difficulty in regrowing well after injury or damage. However, it's recently been discovered that nerve cells probably regrow, but not very efficiently. 

Despite this, your brain health is somewhat accommodating. Although the brain's overall structure doesn't change (new tissue will not regenerate), the organ can "re-wire" itself around damaged parts. 

The brain rearranges neurons to allow the organ to function as normally as possible. TBI treatments aim to encourage the brain to re-route itself in ways that will improve skills damaged by the injury.

While there is no concise treatment for the condition, brain plasticity has inspired specific treatments for TBIs: 

Traumatic brain injury treatments aid brain health by stimulating the organ's ability to re-route itself when damaged. TBI therapies activate neuroplasticity which may help conditions like impaired movement or speech. 

Steps to Recovery

Nobody knows when a sports injury, accident, or collision can happen, but there are specific steps to help individuals properly recover and return to their old selves.

These steps include seeing a neurotrauma specialist, getting a proper diagnosis, tracking any symptoms, and being kind to your body and mind. All of these can be achieved with the help of Sallie® from Power of Patients®. 

Sallie® aims to assist individuals by being an incredibly easy-to-use and free symptom tracking dashboard. The robust data collection approach includes many symptoms for our users and their doctors to track. 

By using Sallie®, individuals are taking the necessary steps for care and further prevention of Traumatic Brain Injuries.

Whether or not you are involved in a sport or dealing with any type of brain injury, know that Power of Patient's Sallie® is made for you.