Proprioception is a medical term that describes the ability to sense the direction of the body in the environment. It allows you to move quickly and freely without consciously thinking about your position in space or the environment. Proprioception is a continuous feedback loop within your nervous system that tells your brain where you are and what forces are acting on your body at any given point in time.
The way we can tell the way our arms are raised above our heads even when we close our eyes is an example of proprioception. Other examples might include your ability to perceive the surface you’re standing on, even if you’re not looking at the surface. If you walk down the sidewalk and then turn around and walk on the grass, your body knows how to adapt to changes in the ground due to proprioception.
Anatomy of the Proprioceptive System
Proprioception comes from sensory nerve endings that provide our brains with information on the location of limbs. There are specialized nerves in your muscles and joints that communicate with your brain to tell it where your joints are and how much stretch or strain the muscles around your joints have. Nerves surround each muscle bundle and establish a communication system with your brain about what’s going on in your body’s muscles and joints.
What happens when proprioception is impaired?
If you have poor proprioception after an injury or surgery, you may not even notice it. Sometimes, however, impaired proprioception can lead to difficulties with basic functional mobility. When walking on an unstable surface, you may feel like you are about to lose your balance. If your proprioception is really out of whack, you might even fall.
Injuries to the upper extremities may also lead to loss of proprioception. You may have difficulty getting to it correctly, and you may have problems with fine motor tasks that require precise movement.
Many people practice balance and proprioception after an injury or illness. After a total knee replacement, your physical therapist may work with you to help you regain a sense of the position of your knee. He or she may have you do balance exercises. These may include:
- T-balance exercise
- standing on one leg
- Broad Speed Steps
- BAPS board
- Upper Body Functional Exercises and Movements
The progression of proprioceptive exercises can be accomplished by changing the surface on which you are standing. Try standing on a pillow or foam. Standing with your eyes closed, thereby eliminating your visual system, can also challenge your proprioception.
When you visit a physical therapist, he or she may assess your balance and proprioception and prescribe exercises to help improve your proprioception. These exercises can challenge your balance and cause you to feel unstable. This instability is necessary; it helps improve your balance and proprioception.
Understanding how proprioception affects your balance and your ability to navigate your environment can be a key component of your successful recovery after an injury.
Proprioception is a complex series of muscle and neural communications that tells your brain where your body is in space. If you are injured, your proprioceptive system may be damaged, leading to changes in your ability to function properly. Working with your physical therapist can help improve your proprioception and your overall functional mobility.
Frequently Asked Questions
How to test proprioception?
There are several ways to test proprioception. A common one is called the Romberg test: a person stands upright with their feet together and closes their eyes for 30 seconds. If they lose their balance, proprioception can be a problem. Other tests may be performed by a doctor or physical therapist using special equipment.
Can proprioception be improved?
Yes, proprioception can be improved. A systematic review of 51 studies found that proprioceptive training improved an average of 52% over starting levels. Some of the single studies reviewed resulted in improvements of up to 80%.
What types of exercise help improve proprioception?
Balance exercises such as T-balance exercises, one-leg stances, BOSU balls, and standing BAPS boards can help improve proprioception. Certain physical activities can also help improve proprioception, including yoga, tai chi, or exercising with slack lines or a balance ball.
What are some reasons a person may not have good proprioception?
Age, injury, and certain neurological disorders can lead to diminished proprioception. Drugs and alcohol can also temporarily affect proprioception.
Those who are recovering from an injury may lose feel for the injured part of their body. During the recovery process, proprioception will gradually return.