Proprioception is learned at a young age and it includes both gross and fine motor skills. It starts the first time you reach for your mum's face as she's holding you and continues to evolve through early childhood. By the time you're in primary school, you're already pretty good at most things like holding a pencil to paper or kicking a football, and as you mature into an adult, you'll no longer need to think consciously about how your body moves even if you're trying something new.
But an injury, illness or surgery can change all that. Anytime immobilization occurs, it's very common to lose some of your proprioception. This can range from feeling a bit unstable to experiencing a complete loss of balance.
The good news is, just as you did when you were young, you can better your proprioception again with practice. Proprioception exercises have been shown to improve sensorimotor function, and with the right therapy, it's possible to recover from injury or illness return to your normal activities.
The purpose of proprioception exercises is to improve balance and spatial awareness and therefore also your sense of position in space. Water therapy may be a part of your recovery, particularly if your range of motion has been severely impeded or your muscle mass is greatly reduced. Starting in the water is a great way to get reacquainted with your body as you begin to make strides toward your recovery. Learn more about how water therapy can improve your balance and muscle function here.
Which specific exercises you'll engage in will depend largely on which body part is affected. For example, if you've injured your shoulder, you'll likely not also need to re-learn how to put one foot in front of the other.
Below are some of our favorite general balancing and spacial awareness techniques, good for the entire body. If you find that your senses are mildly affected after an injury, or you'd generally like to increase your proprioception for strength purposes, try these exercises at home.
Anyone can benefit from increased proprioception, not just those of us who are a big more accident-prone. Whether you've had an injury or simply want to be more balanced and graceful for athletic purposes, these exercises can help you gain more confidence and awareness.
The major factors contributing to proprioception development are activities that focus on balance, strength and eventually plyometrics such as jumping. If you're already an advanced player and simply want to improve your kinetic awareness, plyometric exercises are a great place to start:
- Squats & Lunges
- Jump Squats & Lunges
- Box/Vertical Jumps
- Lateral Jumps
- Balance Boards
- Weighted Balls for Overhead & Side-to-Side Exercises
- Stop-and-Go Drills
If you need help re-training your proprioception after an injury, it's important to start with the basics, no matter where you were at prior to the incident. Keep in mind that any training after an injury should remain under the care of a specialist, such as a physical therapist, unless otherwise recommended.
Anything from walking to shifting your balance from one leg to another will help you to improve your stability.
You may be noticing that it's a bit more challenging to gain equilibrium, and this is expected after a period of recovery. Engaging in balancing exercises every day will help re-teach your brain where your body is in space, helping to prevent further complications from additional injuries.
All of these exercises are adaptable to suit a range of needs and abilities. When performing an
exercise, think of all of the ways in which you can break down your movements into smaller steps. For example, if you're not yet capable of doing a standing leg lift, you can try simply shifting your weight from one leg to another. Once you've completed this action, you can think about bending the knee but keeping the toes on the ground. Once you feel comfortable here, try just flexing the toes on your bent leg to move them a few inches above the floor.
Giving yourself permission to feel accomplished each step of the way will speed up your recovery and help you to stay motivated. Here are some easy-to-modify balancing exercises we love:
- Standing on One Leg
- Standing on Tiptoes
Improving your strength requires proprioception and your proprioception will improve by practicing
strength training. It's a two-way street that's closely intertwined; without one, the other suffers.
Strength training will often naturally be a part of your recovery, whether you need proprioception retraining or not. Strength exercises will help to re-establish important connections between your muscles and brain, and as your strength improves, you'll also begin to increase your body's awareness in space. This, in turn, will give you the ability to train harder, improving strength and proprioception even further.
Exercises such as squats and lateral lunges are some of the most popular and effective ways of regaining leg stability.
Core exercises are an essential part of whole-body stability, and their benefits reach far beyond injury recovery. A strong core is an essential part of injury prevention, and focusing your workouts to include your abs and back will allow you to take your fitness to the next level.
Improving strength and mobility after an arm, shoulder or back injury can range from simple movements such as rotation to active resistance training using weights or bands.
Here are a few workouts to help get you started:
- Leg Lifts
- Bicycle Crunch
- Resistance Band
- Across chest
- Behind back
If you've suffered from an acute injury or are currently in recovery from an illness or a surgical procedure, it's important you talk to your doctor about how to get your physical health back on track. He or she may recommend professional physical therapy, at-home exercises or a combination or both.