Proprioception is the sense of knowing where your body part is in space. This can be a difficult concept to grasp until you lose it, because so much proprioception occurs subconsciously. Your proprioception capabilities can be impaired when joints are injured, such as with ligament sprains. When you lose proprioception of your joint after a sprain, you may experience an unstable sensation of the joint. Your joint may even give out.
Proprioceptive sense refers to the sensory input and feedback, that tell us about movement and body position. Its receptors are located within our muscles, joints, ligaments, tendons, and connective tissues. It is one of the “deep senses”, and could be considered the “position sense”.
Signs and Symptoms
The most common symptom of reduced proprioception is poor balance. In this respect, most people can understand the concept that poor balance can be a result of poor proprioception. However, even your spinal posture has a proprioception component, which tells you whether or not you are sitting, or standing upright. Good posture, for example, could be thought of as perfect spinal balance.
On the other hand, one can have difficulty with “postural stability”; that is, the ability to hold and maintain one’s postural muscles and responses, which gives you a sense of security and safety during movement. As a result, proprioception is impaired, and “emotional security” suffers.
Signs of postural instability could include:
- – tripping and falling often
- – slumping at the desk, dinner table, etc.
- – appearing to be “limp” and lethargic all the time
- – needing to rest one’s head on one’s hands, or laying one’s head down on one’s arm on the desk/table, while working
- – having poor posture during motor tasks
- – being unable to stand on one foot, and having difficulty with any balancing tasks.
Every injury has the potential to decrease your proprioception, and subsequently your balance. However, you can quickly improve both your proprioception and balance, with the relevant exercises.
What are Proprioception/Balance Exercises?
These exercises teach your body to control the position of a deficient, or injured joint. A common example of a proprioceptive or balance exercise, is the use of a balance or wobble board, after an ankle sprain. The unpredictable movements of the balance board, re-educates your body to quickly react to the wobbly movements, without having to think about these movements.
That is, your natural balance and proprioceptive reactions that we are attempting to retrain, make the transition from a conscious to a subconscious state. A quality subconscious proprioception and balance system is important in everyday life, and particularly in sport.
Elite athletes are not thinking about how to stay balanced as they pass or kick a ball; that all happens automatically behind the scenes. The best athletes can then elevate their performance by focusing on what they plan to do with the ball, and performing that match winning skill, rather than wasting their mental power on just staying upright.
How Does Your Proprioception or Balance Improve?
Proprioception exercises are designed to improve your proprioception feedback circle. In simple terms, your brain sends electrical contract or relax messages to your muscles. Your joint movement response is detected by your sensory nervous system, and reported back to your brain, for fine tuning and improvement with repetition of the process. In other words, perfect practice will eventually mean proprioception perfection.
There are hundreds of injury specific proprioception and balance exercises. These cater to injuries of the shoulder, elbow, hip, knee, ankle or spine. It is best to see your trusted physiotherapist, to ensure that you are doing the right things, at the right time, and not disrupting tissue repair. It is possible to commence advanced proprioception or balance exercises too early, which can be detrimental to your rehabilitation outcome.
Your feet mirror your general health . . . cherish them!