Balance and proprioception tend to come hand in hand. This week sees the start of Balance Awareness Week, which aims to raise awareness of vestibular disorders which affect balance, co-ordination/motor controls. We thought it was an ideal time look into proprioception and explain exactly what it is.
Proprioception is one of those words used by trainers and health care professionals, but most people don’t really understand what it means.
What is it, do we all have it, if it is poor – can we do anything to improve it?
Proprioception is the body’s awareness of where it is in space at any given time – without having to check. Essentially it is our balance and coordination combined. It is involved in all everyday practical activities – walking, sitting down, bending over, reaching for a cup/light switch – right through to more technical movements involved in sports (diving, gymnastics, dancing) where precise co-ordination is required. Proprioception is a crucial system within the body, keeping us safe and is required to achieve all movements and activities, however small. Imagine the first time you sent a text/played the piano and how much if a muddle your fingers got into – but after repeated use and practice you can type/play with your eyes closed.
Our bodies rely on senses and feedback from our eyes, ears and especially nerves (sharing information from our muscles, ligaments and joints), to tell us where we are and how to balance ourselves, make a specific movement or stop ourselves from falling. It is a process that can be improved by training (challenging it), but can also deteriorate with disuse or disease. Factors that can affect our proprioception include age (as a person’s senses deteriorate), as well as diseases such as arthritis, MS and Parkinson’s disease (and other degenerative disorders) which disrupt the body’s normal balance. Injury will often damage the proprioception receptors, which is why after damaging a muscle, movement often feels ‘funny’ and needs to be retrained – hence the importance of rehabilitation exercises post injury or operation. Fatigue is also a factor which can influence the system.
A final area that can affect balance is the alignment of your spine. If your pelvis is not level, your body needs to compensate for this misalignment – aiming to keep you vertical at all times. Your shoulders will shift in one direction and your neck counterbalancing in the other. The result over time may be stiffness and pain in either hips, back, shoulders or neck.
Balance and co-ordination can be overlooked as part of our everyday fitness, yet we are so reliant on it, we should take more time to train and strengthen our proprioception. No-one (however old) likes to fall, and by training the system simple injuries like tripping or rolling over the ankle can be avoided, so what can be done to help?
- All forms of exercise will be helpful – keeping the body moving in all planes, improving fitness, strength and flexibility.
- Good nutrition is required to regulate nerve impulses and muscle activity. Eating a quality diet with plenty of
fruit and veg is key to keeping the bodies messages circulating unhindered.
- Specific proprioceptive exercises are recommended for everyone and can be very simple, including such movements as:
- Standing on one foot while cleaning your teeth
- Too easy? Stand on a pillow (or similar uneven surface)
- Stand on one leg and close your eyes
- Stand on one leg and feed a ball around your standing leg with the raised foot
- Stand on one leg and bounce a ball / throw and catch with a family member (changing direction of throw)
There are many exercises beyond these, including more movement such as hopping and jumping. For further information, or if you would like advice, please contact one of our physiotherapists via reception – firstname.lastname@example.org or 01242 222111.