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Athletes (and injured athletes) can benefit from proprioception training.

Baseball, Ivy Rehab Physical Therapy
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Added on January 28, 2016

Written by Judy Alvarez
Director – Ivy Rehab Westfield

When it comes to sports training there are many things to consider- power, strength, endurance, nutrition, skill, speed, balance, and proprioception. Recently you may have heard the word proprioception get tossed around when people are talking about sports performance but not many people know what it means or how they can apply it to their training.

Proprioception training is a combined term for proprioceptive, vestibular and visual systems. Proprioception in essence is having a sense of self or where your limbs are oriented in space. Within those limbs lie proprioceptors, which are sensors that provide information regarding the joint angle, muscle length and muscle tension automatically to the central nervous system. The central nervous system then relays information to the rest of the body allowing it to appropriately respond. Initially proprioception is an unconscious action but it can be improved through conscious training.

Activities that require balance, coordination, agility, power, and combined movements are all excellent tools to utilize when attempting to perform proprioceptive training. What athlete do you know who wouldn't mind being faster, stronger or having increased balance? Besides the immediate effects there is significant statistical evidence demonstrating that a prevention program incorporating proprioceptive training alters the neuromuscular risk factors and influences the basic elements of sports performance. Most proprioceptive programs include a warm up, technique exercises with an emphasis on proper hip/knee/ankle alignment during running, jumping and cutting, balance exercises, and strength. Examples of exercises that have an emphasis on balance include single or double leg balancing on a mat or wobble board with your eyes open or closed. The level of difficulty could then be increased by asking the athlete to perform squats, or a ball toss on the wobble board. Depending on the sport, some programs will place a larger emphasis on proper hip/knee/ankle alignments during a walking lunge, lateral hops (double or single leg), forward hops (double or single leg), or scissor jumps. By encouraging the athlete to be very conscious regarding proper alignment, core stability, control and quality of their movements you can consciously train your proprioceptive system to be more effective during unconscious moments. So when you are playing center field and sprinting to catch that fly ball your body will unconsciously respond to that gust of wind or the divot in the playing field allowing you to cut directions safely.

Proprioceptive training is not only beneficial for the healthy athlete but has been proven to be extremely helpful for injured athletes as well. When an athlete is injured there are many factors that play a role towards a speedy and healthy return to sport. It all begins in the acute phase, which involves rest, ice, compression and elevation. Beyond the initial acute phase an athlete may or may not require physical therapy. During the initial evaluation performed by a physical therapist they can examine the strength, balance, flexibility and range of motion deficits that will require improvement for the player to be able to return to their specific sport. Part of the athlete's physical therapy will then incorporate exercises that are geared towards this sport specific proprioceptive training. This rehabilitation may include the following exercises balancing- with an emphasis on proper hip, knee and ankle alignment, agility exercises, strengthening, and most importantly education. Besides utilizing these exercises during rehabilitation, the athlete can incorporate this newly learned skill set into their everyday training; not only preventing injury but making them faster, quicker and stronger.






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