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What is the Pyramidal Tract?

Mary McMahon
Updated Feb 06, 2024
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The pyramidal tract, also known as the corticospinal tract, is an important part of the central nervous system. It is responsible for all voluntary movements made by the body. Damage to this tract can lead to a number of problems, including paralysis, muscle weakness, loss of muscle control, and tremors.

The origins of the pyramidal tract lie in the “motor strip,” an area in the cerebral cortex where signals that trigger voluntary movement originate. A group of pyramidal neurons create a dense network of fibers that travels through the brain, along the brain stem, and into the spinal cord. Once in the spinal cord, the lower motor neurons connect with the nerves that innervate muscles all over the body.

When a voluntary movement is made, the signal is passed along from neuron to neuron along the corticospinal tract until it reaches the desired nerves. This transmission takes place in a fraction of a second, allowing people to respond in a way that may feel instantaneous. The level of control available through the pyramidal tract is extremely precise and highly detailed, allowing people to do everything from controlling the movement of the hands during brain surgery to running a marathon.

Certain neurological diseases can cause lesions in the pyramidal tract, leading to a loss of muscle control because nerves become damaged and can no longer transmit signals. The cells can also be damaged through stroke and trauma, such as a traumatic brain injury. Patients with pyramidal tract dysfunction are usually treated by a neurologist, a doctor who specializes in the treatment of diseases that involve the nervous system.

Patients who have sustained damage to their corticospinal tract have a prognosis that varies, depending on the nature of the damage. Some patients may be able to regain motor control over the course of the healing process. Others may permanently lose motor control, leading to the atrophy of muscles that are never used. Some patients can also develop issues like contractures, in which muscles or tendons become permanently shortened. Physical therapy can sometimes help patients retain muscle strength and control.

Problems with the pyramidal tract can be identified during a neurological examination in which a medical professional checks for classic signs, such as muscle weakness and the Babinski reflex, a reflex normally only seen in young children, and which is indicative of a problem when it is seen in adults.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By nextcorrea — On Jun 17, 2011

The article mentions that damage to the pyramidal tract can cause people to loose control over their voluntary movements. I took this to mean that they would become paralyzed. But I am wondering if damage could also lead to involuntary movements. I am thinking about someone with a disease like Parkinson that shakes with tremors uncontrollably. Is this movement related to the pyramidal tract?

By jonrss — On Jun 14, 2011

Reading this article got me thinking about the strange notion that out thoughts have a physical presence. This article talks about responses being passed from neuron to neuron troughout the brain and down the spinal cord. I imagined a huge line of people passing an apple down the line from one set of hands to the next.

We never really think about our thoughts having any kind of weight or substance. They are kind of just an ethereal fog that we imagine floating around in out brains. But they must have some kind of real presence if they can be passed along and sent down different pathways. Kind of a crazy idea I know but something I really like thinking about, thinking about with big weighty thoughts.

By summing — On Jun 13, 2011

Its funny, I have an older computer, and as I type this there is a slight delay between between when I press down on the keys and when the letters show up on the screen. This slight delay means that my computer is significantly slower than my body and brain are when they are working together. In most cases I am typing a word before I am consciously thinking it in my brain. The move from consciousness to action is even faster than instantaneous.

By Ivan83 — On Jun 12, 2011

Wow, what a concept. I had no idea that there was a single part of the body that controls all of our voluntary movements. I guess in the back of my mind I knew that there must be something in there helping me to raise my arms and wiggle my toes, I just never would have guessed that it was centered in one place

Voluntary movements are kind of a mysterious thing, something you take for granted until the become out of your control. No one really thinks what is going on when the try and bend their index finger. Its just the thing that happens when you want it to happen. But there are so many complicated neurological responses going on all over the body to produce that one little response. The human body is really incredible.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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