Monday, 19 April 2021

Proprioception - or you may call it our "spider senses' or innate reflexes


Proprioception means the body’s ability to sense our movement, actions and surroundings in space. We may not realise it but our body is constantly adjusting to keep us safe and injury free. It is very important for our overall health, strength and fitness and is even more important as we age.

Try this example of proprioception - can you balance on one foot while brushing your teeth, can you close your eyes at the same time too (be careful)?

You may think you don’t need to be able to do this, but actually we need good proprioception for our every day lives e.g walking - putting one foot in front of the other without looking, going up or down the stairs, reaching up on tip toes to get something out of the cupboard, throwing a ball, playing golf, avoiding tripping over your dog as they suddenly dart infront, dribbling a hockey ball while running…etc.

So, having good proprioception allows our body to be:

Balanced - to maintain correct posture through effective stabilisation, both statically and dynamically
Agile - to control sudden movement and also at speed
Co-ordinated - allowing different parts of the body to move together and fluidly at one time
Perceptive - instantly adjusting

These all help protect and prevent injury by adjusting appropriately when we are faced with different situations and necessary positions.

Injury reduces proprioception due to pain, inflammation and scar tissue, so it leaves the affected joint unstable. Hence, it is important to regain proprioception as part of a rehabilitation plan to help reduce the risk of another injury.

Good proprioception is essential for us all, athletes and non-athletes alike.

How it works...

Proprioception is a continuous loop of feedback between sensory receptors in our soft tissues (muscle, tendon, ligament, joint and fascial) and our central nervous system. Within these soft tissues are tiny sensory organs called proprioceptors which the sensory receptors wrap around. So the proprioceptors sense when tissues are stretched, experience tension or pressure and then the sensory receptors are alerted and send information to the central nervous system for the brain to process and consequently respond with the appropriate adjustment.

Here is an example :

Note - muscle spindle is the name of the proprioceptors of our muscles.

Consider also the body’s response when we are running or walking and we change from a tarmac path onto slippery muddy ground (this happens a lot around me at the moment as we keep distanced from everyone else), our proprioception is at work adjusting our speed and our body’s entire balance.

Proprioception is an automatic body function so we are “unconsciously in control” but our daily experiences and activities from birth also help us train our proprioception.


As we age our sensory receptors decline and couple this with loss of muscle mass and joint deterioration (from loss of lubricating fluid and soft cartilage at the end of bones) we can be more susceptible to injury.

Proprioception Training

Many of you are already be fit and strong however there are exercises which challenge and build our proprioception for all levels of fitness to maintain fundamental movement patterns.

The most important proprioceptive exercise is balance as this involves the whole body. Start with static balance and progress to balance with movement, as examples these exercises show progression from left to right.

And then you can progress these 3 exercises by doing them with your eyes closed, going up onto your tip toes and/or include a hop.

Thai Chi, Yoga, Pilates and other balance practices are great for proprioception.

After injury then targeted proprioceptive exercises for your injured area must be part of your rehabilitation. For example below are a shoulder and knee control exercises.

More progressive exercises for your sport could involve a bosu ball, wobble board or Swiss ball. In these exercises the balls change the exercises to strength while controlling and building proprioception. 

In summary proprioceptive exercises are relevant to practice at any point and post-injury they should be included once you are pain free with good movement and you start to retrain with strength and proprioception exercises.

Soft tissue treatment builds awareness of your body, how it feeIs and moves and with this knowledge together we can tailor an appropriate rehab plan, if necessary.

Of course, if you have any questions on any of the above, or another topic please email or call.

Nicky Holbrook
January 2021