Proprioception & Kinesthetic Awareness
What is Proprioception and Kinesthetic awareness?
By Definition Kinesthetic Awareness is a sensory skill that your body uses to know where it is in space.
Many Structures in your body have nerve receptors which send specific information to the brain. Structures such as your inner ear tell the brain information about the head’s orientation to gravity, accelerations, decelerations, and direction of movement. You’re eyes provide depth perception, and a visual surveillance of objects around you. Your muscles have a variety of receptors that tell the brain information like; how much tension is in the muscle, how long or stretched the muscle is, how fast the muscle is moving, and most importantly what position its associated joint is in.
Your Brain receives this type of feedback information from your ears, eyes, muscles, ligaments, skin, etc... every split second! Sounds like a lot eh! It is , but your brain requires this sensory information in order to guide your body through smooth movements, stay balanced, maintain posture, and react to the immediate environment.
How Does Your Brain Control Your Body
Your brain is the main control centre of your body. Every motion your body performs or every posture
your body maintains is “programmed” by the Brain. These programs are called “motor programs”.
Muscles do not think for themselves. They only do what they are told by the brain. Muscles contract, or relax, exactly when they are told and they contract with the exact amount of force they are told. The brain accomplishes this task by sending “motor programs” to the muscles. A motor program is a set of signals sent by the brain to all of your body’s muscles. Each motor program has precise information for each muscle on when to work and how hard to contract. Every one of over 600 muscles in your body receives instructions form the central nervous system every split second of your life
Practice makes perfect as long as the proper program has been practiced!
The brain gets better and better at sending a motor program for a specific movement, each time the body performs the movement. If the proper motor program (ie- the proper movement) has been practiced you’ll get better at that movement skill. Whether it’s a golf swing, an alpine ski turn, stopping in hockey, running, swinging a racquet, etc… The more you practice a movement the better you’ll get at that movement!
So what if the motor program (and movement) is wrong--- Like that consistent slice you have in golf?
Then your brain gets better at sending the wrong motor program. This is seen all the time in athletics.
It's why coaches work so hard at getting their athletes to practice proper form.
This concept even applies to basic posture. If you practice proper posture your brain and body will
become better at holding that proper position.
- Remember if you slouch all the time, the brain becomes more experienced at slouching and gets better at sending a motor program to the body to slouch! So stand tall when ever you think about it, and your brain will get better at telling your body (ie-your muscles) that “good posture” is how your supposed to sit or stand!
Why use proprioceptive and balance equipment?
If your body is losing its balance, it tells the brain things like how fast it's losing its balance and in what direction. Your brain then has to quickly and effectively send a motor program to the muscles to adjust and regain balance.
Life is unpredictable and the sporting environment is even more so. In order to start and stop, cut side
to side, and control a ball at the same time, the body requires good balance and needs to be in a
strong position. Unstable surfaces cause your body to loose balance faster and more frequently. The
brain and muscles need to react quickly and appropriately in order to maintain balance.
If your workouts consistently include unstable surfaces such as wobble boards, balance mats, balance
stones, exercise balls, bosu balls, skate boards, slide boards, etc… you will become a better balancer.
These kinesthetic skills will cross over into the sporting environment, allowing your body to adapt and
adjust to the movements you demand with greater efficiency.
Better kinesthetic awareness during your sport can improve performance and decrease injuries!
Better proprioception and kinesthetic awareness may decrease injuries!
Recent research is pitting a strong connection between injury prevention and training with balance equipment and/or guided agility exercises as an adjunct to a regular training regime.
Many lower body injuries follow this trend but It has been observed significantly in the prevention of knee and ankle injuries. It is believed that by consistently stimulating the body to stabilize itself on unstable surfaces and learn proper form through specific agility exercises, the body improves its movement patterns during sport. The result is that the knee and ankle have less chance of getting
“caught” in an injurious position during sport.
Injuries Cause a Proprioceptive Deficit
Recall that most structures in your body have specific receptors to supply the brain with sensory
information. If a structure such as a muscle or ligament is injured, the proprioceptive sensory receptors
may also be damaged.
Take a common example (simplified version):
You roll your ankle and tear a ligament. One of the important jobs of that ligament was to provide
proprioceptive sensory feedback to the brain about the ankles position in space. Prior to the injury, if the ankle started to roll, the receptors in the ligament would have informed the brain of the ankles position and potential danger of rolling too far. The brain would then respond by contracting the appropriate muscles to bring the ankle to a proper position. It takes split seconds and works so effectively, that we are unaware that there was ever a problem. But, if that ligament gets torn, the brain will lack the normal sensory information it gets from the ankle if it starts to roll. The result is an ankle that not only lacks a supporting ligament but also has a proprioceptive deficit. It means that future ankle sprains may come much easier, even while just walking down the street.
How Does The Body & Brain Compensate For An Injury?
All hope is not lost after injury!
Remember- injuries can heel. But, from a proprioception point of view compensation needs to occur. The brain can learn to “listen” to the sensory signals of other tissues and structures around an injury. They are not the normal feedback signals the brain is used to but with repetition of proper movements the brain will learn to recognize a pattern of signals and will also learn to adjust the
muscle function of supporting musculature.
How can you help the process?
- First, gradually (and safely) challenge the injured joint through the use of balance and proprioceptive equipment. Get some guidance from a rehab expert so you can follow a logical progression
- Second, external devices such as braces and orthotics can add proprioceptive input from the skin and the pressure of the brace.
- Third, strengthen all supporting musculature
- Fourth, Practice sport specific movements in a controlled environment