How do we make sense of poor balance?
‘Proprioception’ is our position sense, often referred to as our ‘sixth sense’. It enables us to perceive the position and movement of our bodies, without directly looking at them. It helps to keep us upright and balanced.
Proprioception helps us out in sport, for example kicking a football without looking at our feet, or hitting a tennis ball without looking at our arms. It also supports us in carrying out everyday tasks such as turning on a light switch.
Do you have poor balance?
Give the proprioception test a try…
First of all, stand up and lift one leg, try holding your balance, you might wobble a little, but you’ll feel your muscles reacting to keep your balance.
If you found this relatively easy then let’s test you some more, you might want to have a chair or wall near by to hold on to. This time standing on one foot, close your eyes, can you feel how much harder your muscles are having to work to keep your balance? You may even find you’re not able to keep your balance, this is an example of your proprioceptive system working.
How does proprioception help with poor balance?
The proprioceptive system is made up of nerves in our muscles, joints and ligaments which can sense the amount of tension or stress there is in each joint. In a healthy individual these messages are passed along our spinal cord to the brain.
The brain responds by signalling our muscles to contract or relax depending on the desired outcome. This muscle activity is what helps us to stay upright and balanced.
How is proprioception affected by injury?
However, after an injury the tissue has been damaged. As a result, the bodies ability to send these messages to the brain becomes impaired. This is because, in addition to the tissue, the nerve receptors have also been damaged.
If you return to your regular activities too soon, before you’ve fully recovered, you are more likely to re-injure. However, the good news is your proprioceptive system can be trained and improved, reducing your risk of re-injury.
In this week’s video series we show you a series of upper limb and lower limb proprioceptive exercises which you can do to help train, and improve your system.