Proprioception is our sense and awareness of the position of our body parts and is closely linked to balance. Having good proprioception helps to reduce the risk of injury. Located within the muscles, tendons, ligaments and other soft tissues of the body, are tiny sensors which relay information about a joint position, pressure and muscle stretch to the brain.
These proprioceptors are specialised sensory receptors on nerve endings within these structures. Once the proprioceptors have sent information to the brain, the brain then reacts, making changes to the body's position, as required. Examples of proprioceptors include muscle spindles, Golgi tendon organs, and Pacinian corpuscles. If you have ever started to turn your ankle over and it has automatically righted itself then this is the proprioceptors working automatically to prevent further injury.
Following an injury, whether it be acute or an overuse injury, damage to the nerve endings of the associated structure occurs. This results in an impaired transmission of information from the proprioceptors, to the brain, meaning corrections to the body's positioning are either less effective or not made at all. Using the most common example of an ankle sprain, this means the ankle is more likely to be injured again.
How can Proprioception be Improved?
Proprioception can be improved through certain exercises. These exercises should begin as soon as possible after an injury. Generally, in lower limb injuries, this is as soon as full weight bearing is possible. This kind of exercise can start very simply, without the need for equipment using single leg balance exercises.
To further challenge this sense, a device such as a balance board (wobble board), wobble cushion or rocker board can be used. Balance board exercises are quite simple and can be gradually progressed to make them harder as you improve.