What is Proprioception?
Besides a big
word that your doctor or therapist confused you with, what exactly is
it? Some people refer to it as balance, others say it is joint position
sense. In truth, it is a little bit of both. Lets look a little closer
at this very important concept, and why you need to work on improving
it after a sports injury.
in a nutshell, is the way that your body communicates with itself. To
be able to walk, run, jump, and play sports, all of the different parts
of your body have to be able to talk to one another. The joints give
feedback to the muscles, and the muscles react to what the joints tell
them. The better the communication, the easier it is for all the parts
to do their jobs, and to do them well. Proprioception is a combination
of balance, joint position sense, and body awareness. It is vital to
sports performance and rehabilitation following injury.
Does It Work?
the joints of the body, there are ligaments and joint capsules that
hold the bones together. Within the ligaments are very small cells
called proprioceptors. The job of these cells is to communicate with
the rest of the body what is going on in the ligaments and within the
The proprioceptors tell the central nervous
your brain, what position the joint is in, and also if the joint is
moving or not. If you were to close your eyes, and then have someone
bend your elbow for you, you would know that your elbow was being bent,
and how much, because of the feedback the proprioceptors are giving
your brain. This is what I mean when I say joint position sense.
balancing on one foot for 30 seconds. As you do this, notice what your
ankle does. It shifts back and forth, and your foot rolls in and out.
You don't actually think about creating these movements, your body just
does it to keep you balanced.
What is actually
inside your ankle and foot is very precise communication between the
proprioceptors in all of the joints and all of the muscles in your foot
and leg. The proprioceptors tell your muscles when to contract and when
to relax to keep you balanced.
The same thing
sports activities. When you are shooting baskets, or passing the soccer
ball, your body's joints are constantly communicating with the muscles,
telling them when to contract, when to relax, keeping your body stable
When you have an injury, the
communication between the joints and the muscles is disrupted. That
leads to problems...
an injury, there comes a certain amount of tissue damage. Within the
tissues, whether it is a ligament, muscle, or tendon, there is damage
to the proprioceptors, and a disruption of the communication between
the different parts of the body.
When this occurs,
cannot react as fast to keep your knee, or ankle, or shoulder stable.
They cannot do their jobs efficiently. So, your performance decreases,
or even worse, you are more susceptible to injury.
often a major factor in re-injury in sports and in daily life. Once you
are injured, your proprioception is diminished, and so you are more
likely to have problems, or to re-injure yourself.
dysfunction can be severe, or it may be minor. Either way, the muscles
efficiency is compromised, and so you are not at your best.
to Fix It
most common way to improve your proprioception is to work on improving
your balance. Sometimes this is as simple as balancing on one foot. As
you balance, your joints begin to communicate with each other, and
improve the function of the muscles. Add to that balancing challenges
that make it harder, like standing on unstable surfaces, or moving your
arms or legs around, and the body is forced to adapt to the challenges
and improve its communciation.
program involves some type of proprioceptive training. It can be
balancing, or it can simply be exercises that require your joints and
muscles to communicate with each other better. As you do more
exercises, your body adapts and your proprioception gets better.
about an injury that doesn't have any rehab, just rest. There is no
improvement in the communication of the muscles and joints because you
have not challenged the body to adapt. When you return to sports,
everything is working at a lower level. That leads to re-injury.
like doing exercises to increase your strength, you have to do
exercises to increase your proprioception too. That is one major key to
sports injury rehab, and getting yourself off the sidelines.
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