Proprioception plays a significant role in injury prevention as it allows us to understand where our body is in space at any given moment. Our sense of sight, sound, hearing and touch co-operate for us to perform a task, whether it be developing pattern, acceleration, velocity or timing. All of these tasks require the coordination of hand-eye, foot-eye and body-apparatus, and in turn, provide dynamic and postural stability. A sport where proprioception is vital is gymnastics, as it involves whole body movements while balancing, tumbling and flipping, and so on. For example, you may have seen the recent gruesome injury of Samir Ait Said at the 2016 Rio Olympics when he attempted a vault landing.
Proprioception is vital for any rehabilitation program post injury as it diminishes if not trained, and therefore the risk of re-injury is increased. In order to avoid this, the individual must be challenged through relevant proprioceptive training. Before we challenge the individual and have them return to competition, we must first start with the basics, such as having them stand one foot to balance. As the tissues are repairing and the individual passes the first stage of proprioceptive training, they then must be assessed by a clinician in order to prescribe suitable proprioceptive training methods such as the below video from our Osteopath Matt.
Different aspects of training must be incorporated when challenging the joint, such as stressing the joint in different positions and on different surfaces such as grass and sand. The joint must also be challenged against external forces such as weights, resistant bands, and opponents when suitable. It is also important to include cognitive load and decision-making drills such as, agility/changing direction drills, catching drills and reaction drills. It is advised to incorporate these drills at the start of any training session, however to get the most out of proprioceptive training for injury prevention, repetitive efforts under fatigue must be incorporated to assist the neural pathways and to reinforce confidence during the use of the joint.
A great way to enhance the effectiveness of proprioception with an individual is to obstruct the input from sensory systems, such as sight. This can only be done once the individual has completely recovered and has gained all strength back or if they were not injured in the first place. An example of this is to blindfold the athlete. Research suggests that it does not affect the motor skills of the athlete, it actually enhances precision and stability when executing the movement. When undertaking this training method, the individual reproduces the exercise with more efficiency, as the joint angles, the amount of muscular tension and the vast movement patterns involved are all recalled during darkness. Further, when performing the exercise with a blindfold, proprioceptive sensitivity is improved and thus, the individual is able to visualise their own errors and correct them.
During this training, the eyes are covered lightly with a soft fabric, similar to a sleeping mask. The individual must then adopt the starting position a number of times to familiarise themselves with the location and balance of the position. While the individual is performing the task, the coach must comment on essential tactile and verbal corrections. The individual then completes the task until it feels natural, while the coach provides constant feedback. As the individual becomes more experienced, the coach then reduces the amount of feedback given, and as in any program, the individual will constantly be challenged as they progress.
Coming back from an injury can be a difficult and a lengthy process for some individuals. Not only does it involve having the correct rehabilitation and strengthening program, but there may be psychological barriers that arise. Therefore, it is important to take a collaborate approach and have a team of qualified, experienced practitioners around you that understand the science behind injury prevention and performance.
Come in and see us at Absolute Health & Performance for all your injury and performance needs. Look out for our next article on mindset and the psychology behind returning from injury.
Written By Performance Coach Michael Velianis
Joyce, D., & Lewindon, D. (2014). High Performance Training for Sports (1st ed.). United States of America: Human Kinetics.
Verkhoshansky, Yuri., & Siff, Mel: (2009). Supertraining (6th ed.). Rome: Ultimate Athlete Concepts.