Proprioception is the brain’s ability to sense the relative positions, movements and orientation of different parts of the body. Information coming in from receptors in our skin, muscles and joints are sent to the brain and a map is created in an area called the Homoculus. The more you use a specific part of the body, the more detailed the map is of the brain.
What does proprioception mean for you?
If you are one to go over and twist your ankle, you may develop an ankle sprain. The likelihood of this happening may be due to poor proprioception. The brain does not realise where your foot is on the ground, or how to cope with the curb that your foot is standing on. Your brain cannot respond quickly enough to tell your ankle muscles what to do to prevent the twisting motion when it happens and you therefore sprain your ankle.
So how do you test your proprioception?
You need to do the following exercises and compare one leg with the other:
- Can you stand on one leg with your eyes open? How long for?
- Can you stand on one leg with your eyes close? How long for
- Can you stand on a pillow with your eyes open (on one leg)? How long for?
- Can you stand on a pillow with your eyes closed (on one leg)? How long for?
If there are significant time differences between one leg and the other, the chances are you may have reduced proprioception.
The optimal way to improve your proprioception is by moving correctly with specific exercises. It is by retraining movement patterns, and by recruiting the correct muscles. It is by bringing awareness to specific areas of the body that the brain might not be as aware of. It’s like learning to drive a car – initially you have to concentrate extensively on the task, but eventually it becomes automatic.