You may have never heard the word proprioceptors but they play a big role in your life. From brushing your hair, eating your breakfast, to walking down the sidewalk. You would not be able to move effectively without well functioning proprioceptors. Proprioceptors are sensors that provide information about the joints, their angle, muscle length and tension, which in return gives the brain the information about the position of limbs in relationship to the body and the surrounding environment.
Proprioception (PRO-pree-o-SEP-shən), from Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own”, “individual”, and capio, capere, to take or grasp, is the sense of the relative position of one’s own parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.
Ok, I know what you are saying at this point. Thanks for the lecture professor Hess, but why are you telling me this? Well, have you ever fallen up the stairs? How often do you stub your toes? Would you consider yourself a bit of a klutz? If you answered yes to any of these you may want to pay attention.
Even if you believe you have the grace and elegance of a gazelle you may still want to pay attention.
Types of Exercises to Enhance Proprioception
There are a number of exercises that can be performed to help train your proprioception. It is always best to work with a physical therapist or licensed trainer to ensure that you are selecting the right exercises to help enhance your desired performance.
Good exercises for proprioception development would be activities that challenge balance and equilibrium. Balance exercises help teach your body and brain to control the position of a deficient or an injured joint. A common example of a balance exercise that can help improve proprioception is the use of a balance board. You may need to begin holding onto the wall until you have gained a stronger sense of the intended use of the muscles in order to balance on the board.
Exercises While Closing the Eyes
As you become stronger, you can gain the ability to inform and trust your muscles to perform standing activities with the eyes closed. This enhances the communication between the brain and the muscles so that you are able to perform activities properly without watching the movement take place.
Knee strengthening exercises like leg presses, squats and lateral movements with the arms are examples of ways that you can help establish the connection between muscle fibers by building strength. As you build strength in the muscles, the brain begins to understand the request of this strength more and more. As strength builds, it helps improve proprioception awareness with the mind and body and also allows you to continue/hold a movement or action in place far longer with proper form.
Plyometric Movements and Drills
Exercise involving coordination and movement patterns can greatly enhance the kinesthetic awareness. Vertical jumps, running figure-eight patterns, change of direction drills and crossover walking are other routines that help establish the connection between muscles and nerves. As you are asking the body to perform certain movements, it trains the brain to respond to these movements. Over time, it becomes easier to perform these exercises without much thought as a natural connection becomes a part of the routine.
Proprioception Training Routine
Using a mat to protect your knees, get on all fours on the floor in table top position. Make sure the back is flat and the neck is aligned with the spine.
While looking at the floor, raise and extend your right arm and your left leg at the same time. Keep a tight core. Hold for 3–5 seconds and repeat on the other side. Do 10 reps on each side.
Advanced: Hold for 20 seconds with eyes closed. Really focus on a tight core and perfect balance keeping the arm and leg parallel to the floor.
Stand with feet hip distance apart. Raise your right knee to a 90-degree angle and hold for 3–5 seconds. Return foot to the floor and repeat 5 times on each leg. You may need to hold onto the wall or a chair at first. Work towards not needing the extra support.
Advanced: Perform this exercise with eyes closed, no support and holding for 10 seconds, 10 times on each leg.
Crossover Walk (Karoake)
Stand with feet hip-distance apart. Begin walking to your right crossing your left leg over the right, then back to starting position. Continue stepping sideways in a constant motion for about 15 yards. Repeat in the other direction, 5 times each direction.
Advanced: The advanced option is the same but much faster and with a high knee raise as you cross over the leg, naturally twisting the hips back and forth while moving and crossing over in the same direction. Repeat in the other direction for 25 yards, 5–10 times each side.
Stand up straight with your knees slightly bent and feet shoulder-width apart. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor by pushing hips back, keeping back flat and head facing forward — with weight on heels rather than the balls of your feet.
Immediately explode upwards, reaching as high as you can with your hands as your feet leave the floor. Land in the same position you started in. Swing your arms back and jump again right away. Repeat 5–10 times on each side. (source)
Types of Proprioceptors
A system of receptor nerves, or proprioceptors, located within the muscles, joints and ligaments. These receptors function similar to how other receptors monitor pressure, sound, heat and light. These receptors pass this information along to the brain very quickly. So quickly it is referred to as a reflex rather than a reaction.
Proprioception and kinesthetic awareness are often used interchangeably; however, it is important to note the difference. Kinesthetic awareness is a conscious effort to react to the situation, while proprioception is an unconscious or subconscious process. Ultimately, the brain sends the signal so fast that it is an automatic response.
However, the two work together to allow a smooth efficient and safe platform for everyday movement and athletic performance. A great example is when a skier acts subconsciously, through proprioception, to stay vertical yet the person’s mind, their kinesthetic awareness, processes what needs to happen in order to ski over slopes, moguls, around trees and anything else needed to make necessary adjustments to the body to successfully accomplish the motion at hand. Proprioception is an inner sense, the central nervous system, while kinesthetic awareness is an external sense, the body in space and time.(source)
Golgi Tendon Organ
Another type of proprioceptor is the Golgi tendon organ, which provides information about changes in muscles tension. When the muscle contracts, the collagen fibrils are pulled tight, and this activates the Golgi tendon organ. Because changes in muscle tension will provide different degrees of pull on the tendon, the Golgi tendon organ provides information about muscle tension to better assist the muscle in performing an action.
The muscle spindle is also a type of proprioceptor that provides information about changes in muscle length. When the muscle lengthens, the muscle spindle is stretched triggering specific actions within the muscle fibers.