The Anatomy & Physiology of
Don’t be ‘put
off’ reading this section, based purely on the seemingly academic
title. Despite being a complex subject in its entirety, the basic subject matter is relatively easy to
comprehend and is particularly vital in the understanding of behaviour, mood, addictions & substance
use/abuse and the physiological effects of aspects of the sport.
To begin with, the title simply refers to how the brain and the relevant nerves communicate
with the body’s organs, muscles, glands and how information is passed from neuron (nerve) to neuron; from source
Some of the names for neurotransmitters & hormones
and terms relating to these have already been identified and mentioned in the section on ‘Biochemical factors for behaviour’ in the 'Players Section'.
All activity governing thinking, memory, mood, emotions & feelings, movement, breathing, swallowing, digestion,
hunger, the senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, hearing) etc. is as a
result of neurotransmission. Certainly, hormones, enzymes and other ‘biochemical’ agents are also involved, though the overall governing of bodily functions relate to the
activity within the nerve pathways of our body, and particularly in our brains.
pathway’ is a succession of neurons that send electrical signals,
impulses or messages from a ‘source’ to a ‘target’.
They are separated in their journey by microscopic ‘gaps’ called synapses where substances
(chemicals) known as neurotransmitters are released from the sending end of a neuron, across the synapse to the
receptors on the receiving neuron. This transmission allows for a continuation of electrical current or desired
activity to & from the targeted cell, muscle, gland etc.
Anatomy of a Neuron
A ‘Neuron’ consists of (1) the cell body with nucleus (2) ‘Axons’ that carry an electrical impulse away from the cell (3) ‘Synapse’ –where chemicals (neurotransmitters) are released and interchanged & (4)
‘Dendrites’ (on another cell) that receive the
Anatomy of the 'Synapse'
The ‘Synapse’ is the microscopic junction or ‘gap’ between the neurons and where neurotransmitters are released and taken up, inhibited,
modulated or destroyed by enzymes; where transmission of impulses & signals occur. One end (the axon)
releases neurotransmitters and the other receives. In a healthy state, this allows everything in the mind and
body to function ‘normally’. Neurotransmission in the synapse
occurs at less than 1/5000 of a second.
How messages are transmitted
better understand the workings of a basic ‘nerve pathway’, try to visualize the familiar
‘backline’ movement from ‘scrum base’ to ‘winger’ across the field (sideline to sideline). Each pass could be considered similar to the
transmission across a synaptic cleft to the next neuron. The final target, the winger, scores in the corner,
this being the desired result of the initial passage of the ball (the signal) from the scrum to the
Through the utilization of this analogy, one can see the
problems that may arise in certain football scenarios and how this can aid in a better comprehension of problems
that can occur in the brain under certain conditions and neuronal
The ‘classic’ ball movement in the backline
involves each player drawing their man and passing with sufficient speed & efficiency so as to create an
overlap and avoid any sliding defence. If one of those players involved is inebriated, the likelihood of an
incomplete passage of play is high; possibly a spilled ball, poor or slow pass, being tackled or passing too
soon, as a result of impaired cognitive functioning, misperception or poor judgment. The same applies to the
synapses in the nerve pathways in our brains.
What would it be like to have a centre or five-eight ‘mellowed out’ on marijuana, or ‘hyped’ on speed? Would a schizophrenic or ‘manic’ bipolar sufferer contribute to successful execution of a backline move? I
doubt it, yet many of the substances consumed by individuals can create internal, neurological abnormalities and
dysfunction within the mind and body, similar to those one could imagine with this analogy. The same applies to
disorders such as depression or organic illness. The ‘backline’ malfunction of the mind can have disastrous results.
The 'Classic' backline
The ‘pass’ in football relates to the
‘neurotransmitters’ within nerve pathways.
Just as the ball is progressed from one player to the next, so is the electrical impulse of a neuronal
pathway progressed via the transmission of chemicals across the synapse; to the next
These neurotransmitters or their ability to function normally
and effectively can be drastically and adversely affected by substance use and abuse, mental health disorders, congenital defects and
abnormalities, injury and organic illness.
Why is it that you cannot walk a straight line when drunk, or
become paranoid after smoking particularly potent marijuana, or aggressive when using speed or ecstasy; even
experiencing auditory and visual hallucinations from certain illicit
substances? The answer is the alterations to the neurotransmitters in the synapses or the effect on the synapses
themselves. The effects can vary from minor or temporary to severe and possibly permanent. Also the targets of
these substances or illnesses will result in manifested, observable changes in behaviour and thinking; depending
on the neurotransmitters and synapses involved and the areas of the brain in which they
©2008 Waldel Pty Ltd