Are you familiar with the term “proprioception?” Also known as the sixth sense, it refers to the conscious and unconscious appreciation of joint position. Proprioception should not be confused with kinesthesia, which refers to the sensation of joint motion. The term proprioception comes from Latin, meaning “one’s own.” It basically consists of the sensory information derived from neural receptors embedded in muscles, joints, and tendons. This feedback mechanism is also referred to as “muscle sense.”
What Is Proprioception and Why Is It Important?
Proprioception makes it possible to catch something without looking at your arm, touch your face without looking in the mirror, or hit a soccer ball without watching your feet. This sixth sense plays a key role in athletic performance as well as in your everyday life. Every time you move, you’re using this sense. Joint injuries, sprained ankles and other similar issues are often caused by a lack of proprioception. Improving balance and proprioception may reduce injuries.
Knowing the relative position of a body part during a given movement is due to proprioception. This process occurs subconsciously. When your joints are injured, your proprioception capabilities decrease. This may cause loss of balance and coordination, poor physical performance, and even reduced strength. By improving your proprioception, you’ll become more agile and develop the skills needed to maintain stability.
All coordinated movements depend on this mechanism. Simple things like walking, running, or standing, can become difficult for those with poor proprioception. The receptors in your joints, tendons, and muscles send information throughout the body to keep it standing straight, sitting straight, and walking straight. As you age, problems with proprioception may occur. Accurate body sense can be affected by injuries too. The good news is that you can improve your proprioception through exercise.
Ways to Improve Your Proprioception
There are various training methods for improving your proprioception and regaining your confidence in getting around. When done the right way, they can lower your risk of injuries and reduce pain. Most exercises require nothing but your own body weight and some free space. A physical therapist can develop a workout plan that will facilitate better control of movements and enhance your performance.
Proprioception exercises include hip flexions, calf raises, lunges, squats, hip abduction, running and backward movements, lateral movements, jumping, twisting, and pivoting activities. Depending on the exercises performed, you might need a balance board, a bongo board, or a BOSU balance trainer. These accessories are not mandatory, but can help in static balance training.
Besides exercise, there are many other ways to improve your proprioception, such as rhythmic joint compression, deep pressure massage, water sports, hydrotherapy, and hiking. Most physical therapists use a wobble board or duradisk for restoring proprioceptive mechanisms in their clients.
Regaining your proprioception after an injury requires time and effort, so don’t expect immediate results. To speed up your progress, focus on multiple joint exercises, crossover walking, running figure-eight patterns, burpees, leg presses, and balance training. These movements will sharpen up your training and make you a better athlete.