The word proprioception derives from its roots “proprio-”, which means of oneself; and “-ception”, which means awareness. That is, the awareness of one’s own: the awareness of one’s own body posture with respect to the environment that surrounds us. This article is intended to be a summary so that you understand its importance.

Proprioception: what is it about?

Although we are not aware of it, the components of our joints (muscles, tendons and ligaments) together with vision and balance constantly send information to the brain about their position with respect to our surroundings, forming an image or pattern of the location and status of each. This information is what allows our brain to manufacture the responses, resulting in the execution of or performance of precise movements. All this information is proprioception, and we consider it one more sense of our body.

Proprioception a sense? But… Wasn’t it five senses?

There are 5 senses that we all know: touch, vision, hearing, smell and taste. It is not that he has just invented a sense, only that these that we have mentioned belong to a group called “exteroception senses”, since they allow us to perceive what happens outside our body.

We all also know that we have five exteroceptive sense organs: the skin allows us to touch; the eyes provide us with sight; the ears capture sounds (and allow us to balance); thanks to the nose we perceive smells; and the tongue gives us taste.

Proprioception, on the other hand, is a sense of interoception, that is, thanks to it, our brain is aware of the internal state of the body. Our brain receives proprioceptive information through the following receptors:

  • Neuromuscular spindles: They are in the muscle belly and are stimulated when the muscle is slightly stretched. They are responsible for the myotatic reflex, which is very important, since it is a protective reflex against sudden stretching (for example, if we suffer a strain on a joint, the surrounding muscles will contract to avoid further damage).
  • Golgi tendon organs: they are at the muscle-tendon junction and in the tendon and are stimulated by passively elongating the muscle fibers or by voluntarily contracting the muscle (when excessive tension appears on the tendon that can lead to injury or rupture, this receptor sends a relaxation signal to the muscle).
  • Capsuloligamentous Proprioceptors: Found in the capsule and ligaments, they inform the cerebral cortex of the position and movement of the joint. There are four receptors: Ruffini, Paccini, Golgi-Mazzoni and free termination.
  • Vestibular proprioceptors: found in the inner ear reporting head position and head movement.

What is proprioception and proprioceptive exercises? Utilities and benefits

In the following video we explain in detail what proprioception is:

And why is proprioception important in physiotherapy?

Ligaments play a very important role in the joint. On the one hand, they offer resistance to abnormal movement (they are like ropes that prevent the bones from separating more than necessary) and also provide neurological feedback, that is, they inform us about the position of the joint and produce a response that It protects us against excessive tension, thus avoiding a possible injury.

After a joint injury, these mechanisms are disorganized, so we lose the reflex stabilization of the joint and this contributes to the recurrence of the injury. For example: when we sprain our ankle, the ligaments, capsule, tendons, etc. they are relaxed. This injury will cause the sensory signal to reach our brain altered, therefore, an inadequate motor response will be sent; so it will be easier to sprain again in the future.

With proprioceptive work we can reeducate these structures with the aim of favoring automatic and reflex responses.

What would happen if our proprioception is affected or we don’t train it?

Without proprioception, we cannot move. Let’s put it this way: if you get lost in your city, you immediately look for a location to be able to move. The same thing happens in our body: if I don’t know what position my elbow is in, I won’t know how to move it either. You would also not be able to adapt to changes in your environment or know how to take care of them without proprioception: if your brain does not have the information about the environment, it will not be able to generate the appropriate responses and therefore you could injure yourself if a sudden change in against you in the environment in which you operate.

Imagine what would become of us without proprioception? A tennis player wouldn’t be able to serve properly, we’d have a hard time getting a key through a lock, and even getting a spoonful of food into our mouths. That’s why to work proprioception!

How do we work proprioception?

We mainly work on proprioception through balance, coordination and surface changes exercises. These exercises usually begin in a simple way, and as we gain skill they become more complicated, introducing a series of materials such as hoops, benches, balls, platforms.

To work proprioception, we must provoke external stimuli that favor reflex muscle reactions, progressively increasing the difficulty.

what tools can I work proprioception?

In recent years some devices have been created to improve proprioception:

  • Bosu: it is a rubber hemisphere that can be swollen so that it has more or less hardness. The person stands on the hemisphere, both placing the flat part up or down, depending on the imbalance that we want to cause.
  • T-Bow: it is a piece of plastic or wood, in the shape of an open U, on which the patient stands to cause imbalances.
  • Balanceboard: wooden board in which a piece of wood or ball of different thicknesses can be added to the bottom to cause imbalances to the person who stands on them.

If you don’t have these devices don’t despair. There are elements that you have in your home that you can use to work on your proprioception: a cushion, a ball, or even working on movements with only one leg will help you work on your proprioception.

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