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The Role of Proprioceptive Training in Injury Prevention

If you can remember the first time you learned some kind of coordinated movement, such as dancing or martial arts, you may have experienced a difficulty in copying the instructor. You see what they are doing, and you are cueing your body to do the same, but your body’s expression of it is very different than what you think you’re doing. The instructor may suggest a correction and you think “I know, that’s what I’m telling my body to do!” It takes great concentration to get all the parts into the right position. Maybe when you are looking in the mirror and correcting your end-position you can manage to fix everything but when you try to do it at a natural speed, or don’t have that visual reference, it’s hard to coordinate everything properly. The translation between your mental image, and what your body is doing is your proprioception.

Proprioceptors are the sensors that give you a sense of where your body is in space. These sensors are what relay to your brain information about joint angles, muscle length, and tension, which translate to the accuracy between your mental image of your body and its actual position. Proprioception is the sense of body awareness.

We all have a basic sense of proprioception without even needing to be aware of it, but we can cultivate and refine this sense. When you see a graceful dancer or a competent athlete, the poise and control you see, and the ability to precisely contort their bodies in action to elicit high-levels of movement, what you are seeing is a level of proprioception that has been deeply developed.

Everyone can develop their proprioception, and this sense is largely responsible for your agility and balance, which means the higher your level of proprioception, the less likely you are to trip, slip, or fall in daily life and physical activities.

Proprioceptive sensors are found in the skin, fascia, muscles, tendons, and joints, which means a loss in proprioceptive awareness can affect your reflexes as well as your general ability to move your body.

An experiment you can do right now involves putting your foot flat on the ground and raising only your big toe. Now lower your big toe and raise the other toes. Now keep your toes on the ground and raise your big toe and pinky toe. Try this without looking at your toes and feel how challenging it is to coordinate this. Even if you can do this on your first try, you probably have to put a lot of awareness into this action. Your limitation is probably a mix of a lack of motor control, as well as proprioceptive awareness. If you found this easier with your eyes open, the difference is probably the visual input supplementing the lack of proprioceptive awareness.