Is body awareness & proprioception fundamental to healthy movement?

What is proprioception and more importantly how can we use it to help improve our movement?

In my previous blog I stated, “While Reformer Pilates delivers a highly functional and effective full-body workout, it is still based on the fundamental principles of Pilates, which are all about improving body awareness/proprioception, proximal stability and control”.

The terminology used above refers to body awareness and proprioception. Proprioception may be described as someone’s awareness of where their bodies’ position, movement and balance is in the space it occupies.

Our bodies are extremely smart and use receptors from our muscles and joints to feedback information to the brain which subsequently analyses the information to provide us with a sense of orientation and movement. This is both an active and subconscious process as it includes the sense of equilibrium or balance associated with the inner ear.

The terms Kinaesthesia and Proprioception are often used interchangeably however, Kinaesthesia can be more easily described as an awareness that a body part has moved instead of where the body part has moved to in space.

Why is this important in pre-habilitation or rehabilitation for that matter?

Proprioceptive training improves an athletes balance, agility, speed and co-ordination; therefore, it can be significant marker in performance enhancement. This is certainly the case in professional sport. AFL athletes now undergo rigorous proprioceptive training programmes in their preseason and throughout their competitive campaigns as a means of injury prevention.

Initial research has indicated that the occurrences of non-traumatic musculoskeletal injury has decreased significantly since the introduction of this preventative program.

In the rehabilitation of a ligament or muscular injury it is essential to perform proprioceptive exercises. When we have damaged our musculoskeletal system the receptors / proprioceptive factors that transmit the feedback to our brains to plan or orientate movement are also effected and sometimes lost completely dependent on the severity of the injury.

This greatly effects our ability to move functionally and subsequently causes injury recurrence; therefore, it is also essential to perform proprioceptive exercise following musculoskeletal injury.

That’s all well and good but how does this apply to your average person?

Since beginning Reformer Pilates some weeks ago, I have had a dramatic improvement in my proprioception due to my improved awareness of the imbalances which exist within my body. The constant proprioceptive feedback provided through the reformer machine continuously activates and trains our proprioceptive markers.

For example, whether its working on improving my positional sense whilst performing the infamous scooter / table top or it’s my improved ability to coordinate my hip rotations in long straps, I am getting constant feedback as to where my bodies’ position, movement and balance is in the space it occupies.

Proprioceptive training is not only imperative in the sporting population it is also imperative in the non-sporting population. Through improved body awareness we can identify our imbalances and most importantly work on improving them.

The key to avoiding and maintaining a healthy spine when working at a desk for most of the day is having the necessary proprioception/awareness to allow you to alter your posture to avoid overloading and the resultant pain & dysfunction. My improved proprioception and control since beginning reformer Pilates has allowed me to return to running on the roads/paths for the first time in years.

Due to years of sporting knee injuries and resultant surgeries my lower leg proprioception/control was severely altered. Put quite simply the link between my brain and lower limbs was dysfunctional causing continuous biomechanical overload and resultant continual knee pain.

As a physiotherapist, it is very difficult to objectively assess and treat yourself, I do feel that it is now possible for me to objectively identify my biomechanical insufficiencies through the proprioceptive feedback which I am obtaining in reformer Pilates.

I certainly won’t be signing up for this year’s marathon but for the first time in years I feel I can go out for a run without dreading the consequences. Who knows maybe a half marathon or sprint triathlon may be well within reach in the next six months. Watch this space.