Proprioception is defined as the body’s ability to sense stimuli with regard to position, motion and equilibrium. It is the sense of the orientation of one’s limbs in space; the ability to know where a body part is without looking at it. Therefore, the body is able to sense the position of its parts, analyze it, and react with proper movement. Without proprioception, we would have to constantly watch our feet while we were walking.
Balance and proprioception are not the same things. The sense of balance originates from the fluids in the inner ear. Proprioception is provided by proprioceptors, which are sensory receptors. These nerves are located inside the body and transmit information from the muscles, joints, tendons and skin to the central nervous system.
Proprioceptors control balance, coordination and agility, and by training proprioception, we can improve balance, coordination and agility. Balance is a basic skill needed in practically every activity. The key to efficiency is changing your center of gravity to match your moves. Agility is what allows us to move gracefully without wasting motion. It allows our joints to move through the full range of motion smoothly and confidently. Proprioception also reduces the risk of injury. For example, ankle sprains are a fairly commonly injury for athletes. These are often caused by a lack of balance or proprioception. Even if a runner has strong lower limbs and good endurance and flexibility, slight deviations in the terrain during running require adjustments in balance. If the athlete has not trained the neuromuscular system to react appropriately when running on uneven ground or when they have a misstep, they may be injured.
Just like any other motor activity, proprioceptive ability can be trained. Any new motor skill that involves precise movement of our arms and legs– from baseball to painting to skiing – involves training our proprioceptive sense. And just like any new skill or exercise, it requires a progression during training. Start with simple exercises and make them more complex as the individual improves.
Proprioception can be tested by standing on one leg for 30 seconds with both eyes open and then standing on one leg with both eyes closed. Beginners should start with static balance activities and advance to agility and coordination activities. Balance exercises should start on the floor and progress to unstable surfaces, such as stability trainers or wobble boards. On the stability trainer, you can perform lunges, mini-squats, etc and progress to using a resistance band and then further progress to one leg. Wobble boards are good for static balance training and can be made more difficult by using a weighted ball. Be sure to exercise caution when using unstable surfaces.
After mastering balance, you can move on to more advanced proprioception for agility and coordination. Activities used to improve agility and coordination including pivoting, twisting, jumping and cutting. Progress jumping from two legs to one leg.
It is important to use correct technique when performing proprioceptive exercises. Reduce the intensity or level of activity if you cannot perform the exercise with proper technique. In order to reduce the risk of injury, perform these exercises before you are too fatigued. It is important to consider age and body weight when engaging in proprioceptive exercises. Performed correctly, this type of core stabilization or stability training is an invaluable tool to enhance overall fitness.