How is it that professional dancers can glide across the room, without looking where they are going and not bump into each other along the way? Proprioception. How can we walk down a flight of stairs at night when the lights are off? Same.
Proprioception, simply put, means sense of self. The proprioceptors are sensors that provide information about joint angle, muscle length and muscle tension, which gives the brain information about the position of the limb in space at any given time.
While I do not claim to be a great dancer, I have seen some amazing footwork that seems impossible to most. This includes ballroom dancing as well as ballet and any other type of dancing, or even a barre workout. Of course, proprioception goes beyond dancing — to all types of athletes who are able to make movements with their arms and legs and know exactly what support those arms and legs will give them without even thinking about it.
Somehow, most of us are able to execute body movements that require proprioception without much worry. But developing high-level proprioceptive abilities not only will improve your athletic performance, such as footwork, but simply make you more lithe and agile no matter what you do. Let’s learn how.
Who Can Benefit from Proprioception?
Athletes, accident-prone or clumsy individuals, the elderly, those with diseases and even children can benefit from proprioception training. But as you will see, everyone can benefit from proprioceptive work.
Because proprioceptive signals from the joints, muscles, tendons and skin are essential for movement, the loss of proprioceptive awareness may affect the control of muscle tone, disrupt reflexes and severely impair voluntary movement. Numerous neurological and orthopedic conditions are associated with proprioceptive and kinesthetic impairment, such as stroke, Parkinson’s disease (PD), peripheral sensory neuropathies, or injuries to ligaments, joint capsules and muscles. It makes sense that proprioception training could be beneficial to anyone that has been affected, whether due to injury, birth defects or disease. (1)
As studies suggests, there are ways to improve proprioception, no matter if you’re an athlete or even having experienced a stroke. People have varying degrees of proprioception awareness. A professional athlete has a high degree of proprioception awareness, but you may know someone who is accident prone — and this could mean that their proprioception awareness is not as developed as it could be. While one’s proprioception may not mirror a professional athlete’s, working on your proprioceptive skills will make a difference in your day-to-day activities.