Proprioception is a person’s ability to control their limbs on a minute level without having to look or think about it. It deals with sensors throughout the body that monitor muscle control and nerve responses. Proprioception is your sense of balance, your “sixth sense”. Anytime you scratch your head, stand on one leg, reach for something without looking, or change gears while driving you are relying on your proprioceptive abilities. This type of perception develops when you are young as a result of all the normal childhood activities like playing leap frog, jumping on the trampoline, playing with playdough, engaging in a game of tug-of-war, etc.
What is Proprioception?
Proprioception can be disrupted however as a result of injuries to the body, mental diseases, or other major trauma. After an injury, the brain needs to adjust its sense of balance to provide for the new feedback it is receiving from the body. However, this can take some time, so it is highly recommended that an individual participates in proprioception training as soon as possible after the injury. Exercises like one leg stands, leg swings and heel or toe walks can improve one’s sense of balance, preventing further damage and reintroducing coordination of bodily movement.
Therapy that involves balance training and proprioception strengthening involves various physical activities which are specifically geared to trigger notifications from the body and send them to the brain regarding the subtle differences that have resulted from the injury. These are vital lessons that the brain needs to learn in order to correctly assess future actions. For instance, if you have a bone fracture in the left leg, your proprioception is adjusted to balance your body weight to be more on the right leg. This may seem unnecessary with minor injuries, but the purpose is to train your body to react in accordance with the new reality of the injury without reflexing to standard operations and thereby leaving you prone to re-injury.
Proprioception training may involve balance and strengthening exercises, exercises while blindfolded, and plyometric drills. You may start out doing very simple exercises to improve balance, but these will become more advanced and demanding over time. Results are generally perceived in just a few weeks. Balance or wobble boards and other equipment are often used for this type of training, and you may be asked to do certain exercises like leg squats, calf raises, lunges, hip extensions, hip abductions, hip adductions, crossover walks, and change of direction drills. These are all supervised by the physical therapist and guided to produce the most effective results.
For more information about balance and proprioception training, request an appointment at our Naperville or Burr Ridge, IL physical therapy centers.