With sports injuries like sprains, it’s vital to restore proper function as soon as possible. This is particularly the case with ankle sprains, where chronic instability can cause the ankle to give way while walking, running, or standing. In addition to the usual range of motion and strength training, rehabilitation should include exercises that restore the body’s kinesthetic awareness, or sense of its position in space. Medically termed ‘proprioception exercises’, these movements help re-familiarise the body with the sensation of joint movement.
Proprioception is a largely unconscious ability that allows us to, for example, walk down the stairs without looking at our feet. Without proper rehabilitation, chronic ankle instability can lead to repeated injury, arthritis, or tendon issues. Meanwhile, ageing takes its toll on our proprioception, so maintaining these functions are essential to the patient’s well-being long term.
Why Proprioception Exercises Aren’t Only for Sports Injuries
Proprioception exercises such as balance training have been shown to prevent ankle re-injury in athletes and reduce the risk of long term ligament problems . However, they have benefits beyond sports medicine; they have also been shown to help reduce the risk of falls in older people and women with low bone mass and to improve postural stability after a stroke .
There is also research underway to ascertain it’s benefits for overall mobility and preventing falls and injury for people with neurological or orthopaedic conditions. For example, other recent studies that suggest that proprioception exercises could be a beneficial integrative therapy for patients with Parkinson’s disease. 
More research is needed to identify which proprioception exercises are most beneficial according to each condition. However, as part of a regular exercise regime of at least 30 minutes of moderate activity every day, proprioception exercises have clear benefits. This is particularly the case for patients with issues with balance, whether it be a chronic condition or injury.
Incorporating Balance Training into Daily Life
What’s good about proprioception exercises is that you don’t need a lot of equipment to perform them – therefore, it’s easy to get patients to incorporate these exercises into their daily routine. These exercises will also help build strength, which will further improve stability and reduce the risk of falls.
Below are some ideas for proprioception exercises that patients can do with the supervision of a physiotherapist or integrative healthcare professional. With these simple moves, the patient can complement their treatment and be on their way to better balance in no time.
- Stand on one leg when waiting in queues.
- Use a ‘wobble board’ when standing at work or talking on the phone.
- Play catch while standing on one leg and then the other.
- Sit down and stand up from a chair without using your arms.
- Walk as if you were on a tightrope.
- Take up tai chi or a dance class. Choreography is great for spatial and bodily awareness, so this has many physical benefits as well as being an enjoyable hobby.
Enhancing Therapies with Proprioception Exercises
Proprioception exercises such as balance training are an integral part of a comprehensive approach to injury recovery. With its adaptability and ease of practice, it’s becoming increasingly popular among sports medics and physiotherapists. Alongside strength and flexibility training, proprioception exercises can help ensure the patient recovers the full scope of movement in the affected joints and ligaments. With an increasing amount of research to suggest that these exercises can also help those with chronic conditions, the incorporation of proprioception exercises is becoming more widespread among integrative therapists.
- Barrack R., Skinner H., Buckley S. (1989). Proprioception in the anterior cruciate deficient knee. Am. J. Sports Med. 17, 1–7.
- Meyer S., Karttunen A. H., Thijs V., Feys H., Verheyden G. (2014). How do somatosensory deficits in the arm and hand relate to upper limb impairment, activity, and participation problems after stroke? A Systematic Review. Phys. Ther. 94, 1220–1231.
- Konczak J., Sciutti A., Avanzino L., Squeri V., Gori M., Masia L., et al. . (2012). Parkinson’s disease accelerates age-related decline in haptic perception by altering somatosensory integration. Brain 135(Pt 11), 3371–3379.