What is proprioception and why is it important?
Updated: Oct 22, 2020
Many people have heard the term proprioception, especially if they have seen a physio after an ankle sprain.
But what is proprioception and why is it important? Does it only apply to ankle?
Simply put, proprioception is your body’s internal awareness as to where it is in space. An easy way to illustrate this is, if you close your eyes and point your index fingers on each hand. Then bring both your hands above your head and bring your fingers together so that they touch.
The fact you can bring both finger tips to the same point in space is your body’s proprioception ability. This is gained from signals from muscles, joints, tendons, ligaments etc. going to the brain and back to guide your hands.
The faster and more consistent you can do it, shows how well your proprioception in the shoulders, elbows, wrists and hands is performing.
The same is for ankles – where standing on one foot with your eyes closed is a good measure.
In fact, it is the same is for all joints!
The better the proprioception the better the joint works and performs – having all the muscles working in sync and knowing how much they need to fire to get the arm, leg, head etc. into the position we want is always beneficial. Also, this should happen automatically and accurately – without the use of our eyes to guides the joints.
However, injury, pain or other dysfunctions inhibits this ‘joint sense’ and can lead to significant impairments in the joints – so the joints do not react as quickly or accurately and this can lead to further issues and injuries.
This is why after an ankle injury, retraining the proprioception / balance of the ankle is very important in preventing a second ankle injury. However, while the ankle proprioception is often addressed in rehabilitation, other joints such as the shoulder and neck do not get the same attention when really they should.
In fact, many patients with chronic neck pain often have issues with their neck proprioception on testing and can be a major cause of their prolonged symptoms and pain.
Unfortunately, the recovery from injury the focus is on pain and getting back to activity and the proprioception is often forgotten, even though research shows that poor proprioception increases the chances of future injuries and pain.
So, every rehabilitation programme should consider proprioception testing and treatment to aid recovery and limit further issues – with the ankles, knees, shoulders, neck being particularly important to proprioception testing.