What is Proprioception?

Proprioception in the body’s ability to know the positioning and movement of all parts of the body in space without having to look at them. Proprioception is referred to as one of our internal senses and is so critical to our everyday functioning as human beings that it’s generally not until we sustain an injury that we become aware of how important it really is. Proprioception allows us to do things like run on uneven ground and kick a ball without having to look at what we are doing.

In basic terms, our muscles, joints, skin and ligaments all contain sensory receptors that contribute to proprioceptive input. These receptors sense things like tension, contraction and stretch and send this information to our brains. The brain responds by sending signals back telling muscles to contract or relax to achieve the desired movement. This system is subconscious and often movement correction or adjustment happens so quickly it’s almost reflexive.

Proprioception can be interrupted by musculoskeletal injury where the sensory receptors get damaged which in turn affects the feedforward feedback loop. Interruptions to this system can inhibit neuromuscular control, coordination and increase reaction time external stimulus this subsequently increases the risk of sustaining further injury.

How is proprioception improved?

Proprioception can be improved with challenging exercises such as those that challenge positional awareness, throwing and catching, working on uneven surfaces, working with uneven or unpredictable loads, jumping landing and balance exercises to name a few.

Proprioception exercises should be integrated into a rehabilitation programme as soon as clinically appropriate. An Accredited Exercise Physiologist can provide further advice on this.

Below are examples of some more advanced shoulder proprioception exercises that I have recently used in the later stages of a rehabilitation programme with a client who sustained a shoulder injury at work.

Prone Ball Bounces

 

Lying prone on a bench with arms and head extended over the end of the bench, bounce the bosu ball and catch again, repeat for the required repetitions.

Bosu Ball Modified Push Up

  

Lean forward and lower body to bosu ball (unstable surface), absorb force through arms and then push back to start position, repeat for the required repetitions.

Prone Ball Walk Out

  

The above proprioception exercises that I implemented with my client were useful in improving movement co-ordination and building confidence to complete dynamic upper body tasks required in his pre-injury job role. For more information, speak to an Accredited Exercise Physiologist at Absolute Balance.

 

Lisa Wallbutton (BSR, MClinicalExPhysiol(Rehab))

Accredited Exercise Physiologist (AEP) (ESSAM)

 

References

José Inácio Salles, B. V. (2015). Strength Training and Shoulder Proprioception. Journal of Athletic Training, 277-280.