What is Functional Neurology?

Functional Neurology, Defined.

Functional Neurology, as defined by the American College of Functional Neurology, is "a health care specialty focused on the assessment, quantification, and rehabilitation (or treatment) of the human nervous system, utilizing sensory and cognitive-based therapies, to promote neurological plasticity, integrity, and functional optimization."

The History of Functional Neurology

Functional neurology was the brainchild of chiropractic neurologist Prof. Frederick R. ("Ted") Carrick in 1978. He began studying the effect of chiropractic applications on the brain and called the work "chiropractic neurology." In the mid-1980s, the term "functional" was introduced to medicine but was associated with functional somatic syndromes or functional neurological disorders. It was, however, recognized that individuals suffering from functional syndromes presented with more complex symptoms than disease-specific abnormalities. Much of the research on functional neurology has historically been associated with the field of psychiatry, dating back to the roots of neurology in the late 1800s and continuing through the early 1990s.

In the late 1980s, chiropractic neurology gained traction as a specialty in chiropractic. Carrick founded the Carrick Institute, which was solely dedicated to educating and training chiropractors in neurology to help patients with brain and nervous system disorders. Chiropractic Neurology became regulated by the American Chiropractic Neurology Board (ACNB), an autonomous regulatory body supported by the American Chiropractic Association. Chiropractic neurology officially became recognized by the ACA and the Federation of Chiropractic Licensing Boards in 1998, allowing a chiropractor certified by the ACNB to call themselves chiropractic neurologists.

The field continued to grow within the chiropractic profession, and other manual therapists began to take notice of the attention that chiropractic neurology was attracting. It drew interest from providers from many different backgrounds, including physical therapy, occupational therapy, optometry, medicine, naturopathy, acupuncture, veterinary medicine, kinesiology, and more. These practitioners recognized the potential of physical medicine to impact the nervous system in humans and animals.

At that same time, there was an explosion of national interest in understanding the brain. The 1990s was coined the "decade of the brain," in which substantial governmental funds were allocated through the National Institutes of Health to research brain function, brain disorders, the nervous system, brain injury (including traumatic brain injury), mental health, other neurological disorders, and treatment for these disorders. It was in this decade that many scientific accomplishments occurred, including the development of fMRI BOLD neural imaging and the discovery of neural plasticity.

In the early 1990s, biochemist Jeffery Bland, Ph.D., FACN, FACB, introduced the concept of functional medicine to the world. The term functional in medicine differs from traditional medicine in several ways, but most significantly in its objective. Conventional neurology aims to identify and treat symptoms and diseases of the brain and nervous system. Jeffery Bland so eloquently stated in his 2017 publication in the journal Integrated Medicine, "disease is an endpoint, while function is a process." Functional medicine and functional neurology are less concerned with treating symptoms, arriving at a diagnosis, or naming a neurological disease and are more focused on understanding the multi-factorial, complex, and dynamic processes contributing to symptoms, disease, and dysfunction and intervening to halt or alter those processes before the endpoint of disease is reached.

The core concepts in functional neurology share commonality with those of functional medicine and other alternative care models, just more specifically applied to the brain and the central nervous system. With the growing number of non-chiropractic providers becoming interested in chiropractic neurology, in 2008, the American College of Functional Neurology was formed to become an independent certification agency for what had become the multi-discipline healthcare specialty of functional neurology.

On this topic, I had an 8-year-old savant patient on the autism spectrum in 2009 that explained the relationship between traditional and functional medicine in the most brilliantly simple way I have heard anyone do to date. He said, "Dr. Antonucci, understanding the values and the differences between traditional and functional medicine is relatively simple. Traditional medicine saves peoples' lives, while functional medicine gives people their lives back."

What is a functional neurologist?

Technically the term functional neurologist is not given or supported by any regulatory or authoritative body. Healthcare providers that have completed the two years of coursework in functional neurology mandated by the American College of Functional Neurology and have passed the board examinations to earn credentials often refer to themselves as functional neurologists to identify their specialty training.

What can functional neurology help?

As a diagnostic and treatment paradigm, functional neurology has been able to restore and transform the lives of millions of patients with many different symptoms, diagnoses, neurological diseases/neurological conditions, and even patients just seeking better brain health since its inception in 1978.

Functional neurology treatment has been known to be effective for patients with:

  • Concussion or Traumatic Brain Injury-Related Symptoms
  • Post Concussion Syndrome
  • Vestibular Disorders
  • Cerebral Palsy/Hypoxia
  • Post-Stroke Recovery
  • Migraine/Headache
  • Neuro-Developmental Disorders (Autism, AD/HD, Dyslexia, etc.)
  • Chronic pain
  • Cognitive Challenges
  • Movement Disorders
  • Whiplash Associated Disorder/ Neck Pain
  • Sport Performance Desires

What types of treatment are included in functional neurology?

Although functional neurology has its roots in chiropractic, a functional neurology practitioner can have a background in any licensed healthcare field, bringing their treatment tools. The tools utilized by functional neurologists aim to identify brain dysfunction and restore neurological integrity.

Treatment tools commonly used by functional neurology practitioners include:

  • Vestibular Rehabilitation
  • Vision Therapy
  • Physical Therapy
  • Electric Nerve Stimulation
  • Sensory Stimulation (Auditory, Tactile, Visual)
  • Massage Therapy and Myofascial Work
  • Acupuncture (Laser, Electric, Traditional)
  • Chiropractic Treatment
  • Virtual Reality
  • Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
  • Neurofeedback
Dr. Antonucci
Dr. Matthew Antonucci
Doctor | Educator | Researcher
Dr. Antonucci is an experienced chiropractic neurologist, board certified in functional neurology and multiple sub-specialties, a researcher, and an international lecturer, currently seeing patients out of Minneapolis, MN. He trained extensively under Prof. Frederick R. Carrick, maintains an active private practice with licenses in multiple states, and has provided breakthrough neurorehabilitation and performance training to thousands of patients. He consults with several NFL and NHL franchises on performance training and concussion. His work has been featured on ESPN, Sports Illustrated, CBS, Fox News, and more. He has delivered more than 11,000 hours of presentations, both nationally and internationally, on behalf of the Carrick Institute. Most importantly, he is a loving husband and the father of five amazing boys, whom he hopes to inspire to follow in his footsteps.

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