Neurophysiology is a medical specialty that focuses on the relationship between the brain and the peripheral nervous system. As its name implies, neurophysiology is in many ways a melding of neurology, which is the study of the human brain and its functions, and physiology, which is the study of the sum of the body’s parts and how they interrelate. Neurophysiologists examine the many ways in which brain activities impact nervous system activities. Much of the field’s work is investigative, with doctors seeking to understand the origins of and best treatments for a variety of neurological disorders.
There are two parts to the human nervous system: the central nervous system, which is the brain and spinal cord, and the peripheral nervous system, which is the network of nerves that extends throughout the entire body. Nerves are responsible for sensitivity and feeling, but also muscle health and control. Neurophysiology examines the relationship between the two systems in causing degenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, as well as neurological disorders like epilepsy.
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All parts of the body are ultimately controlled in the brain, but the brain, as a part of the nervous system, plays a unique role in nerve management. Neurophysiology tries to connect the role of the brain as nervous system controller with its role as nervous system member to better understand how nervous system problems happen and why. Doctors in the field will use tools and tests like electroencephalography and electromyography to study the ways in which affected nerves communicate with the brain. They uses this data to assess the general functioning of the nervous system as a whole, and to identify the roots of failures and problems.
Neurophysiologists do not generally treat conditions directly. Most neurophysiologists are clinical neurophysiologists, which means that they work primarily with diagnoses. Their role is exploratory and investigative. They work alongside neurologists, neurobiologists, and general physicians to identify and manage a patient’s neurological conditions.
Clinical neurophysiologists work as specialists, and usually only take patients on referral from other practitioners. Most of the time, they relay their findings back to those practitioners, who administer the needed treatments. Neurophysiologists may see patients again for assessments on how treatments are working, but they rarely ever act as primary caregivers.
Success in practicing neurophysiology requires a comprehensive knowledge of not only the cognitive science of the brain and nervous system, but also many other related medical disciplines. The investigations neurophysiologists embark on cross many specialties, and demand an understanding of how all of the body’s many elements come together and interact. Neurophysiology is generally regarded as an elite and exclusive medical specialty.