In elementary school, we all learned about the five senses; sight, touch, smell, hearing, and taste. Proprioception (PPC), a big word that many people don’t know about, I considered the sixth. Proprioception is one of our internal senses, and one of the most important. So important, that it would be impossible to lead a normal life without PPC. It is often taken for granted, until you lose it.
So what exactly is proprioception? PPC allows us to move in space and use our limbs doing complex tasks without having to look at them. Take, for instance the simple task of walking. While on the walk you see a flight of birds, and turn your head to follow them as you continue to walk-without falling, walking into something, or going off at an angle. Without PPC, you’d have to look at your feet to make sure they’re going straight. Another example is a test that police use for a sobriety test. They instruct you to straighten an arm to the side, close your eyes and touch your nose. When sober, PPC allows most of us to be able to accomplish it. Alcohol interferes with central nervous system processing, so people under the influence are unable to do it well if at all.
PPC is in every muscle and joint, with many in the feet and ankles. It has tiny little meters that constantly send information about the position of the different body parts and their relation to the environment. This information is sent up the spinal cord to the cerebellum, which calculates where the limbs must be in space, and makes the necessary adjustments. PPC is not a perfect system, but can be greatly improved by training. Disease (think neuropathy and stroke), and disuse (sedentary lifestyle) can impair PPC.
In my practice, balance training is a huge focus, and PPC is a big component of balance. In fact, you couldn’t balance without it. There are many ways to train PPC, from wobble boards to balance pads, to doing simple tasks like standing on one foot while blindfolded. Ankle and hip flexibility and strength are extremely important, which is why I’m included the following pictures of some exercises that I use.
Hip press. Stand on a 3-4 inch elevated surface with both knees straight. Try to press free leg by dropping pelvis toward the floor (you won’t get there). This strengthens the hip muscles on the support leg. I do 20 on each side.
Calf stretches-outside, inside, and center. Place ball of foot on a rolled up towel with heel on the floor. If you can, step slightly forward with the other leg, keeping shoulders over hips. Hold until stretch eases.
Top of the foot stretch-outside, inside, and center. This one feels good! On a padded surface, place the top of foot on the pad. Take a good-sized step forward, keeping trunk upright. Roll ankle in and out.
Tennis or golf ball on the bottom of the foot. Roll in a grid pattern from base of the toes to the front of the hell. Focus on any tight spots.
When you’re proficient with these, try them blindfolded (you may need a chair for balance). You’re on your way to improving PPC.
Ps. Last week I gave you a link to the online magazine where I had an article accepted. After the blog posted, I noticed that the spell check changed the wording. The correct website is ezine/articles.com
Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.