Welcome back to exercise with arthritis! I hope everyone has been getting out and exercising, no matter what it might be! So far in EWA, we’ve covered two topics dealing with how exercise is beneficial for joint function, arthritis prevention, and improvement of pain. Today, I’d like to talk more about something called proprioception, how it can be improved with exercise, and how it affects performance and arthritis pain.
So what exactly is proprioception? Proprioception is essentially the manner how our brain knows where our body is located 3D space. If that doesn’t make sense right off the bat, then follow along with me for a second so that I can illustrate it for you. I want you to close your eyes and move your arm up and down in front of you. Without having some objective or outside way of telling where your hand is, you can just about guess where it is in relation to the rest of your body. If your hand is at the level of your waist, you can tell that by proprioception. Similarly, if you’re holding your hand near your head, you could probably have guessed that too, even with your eyes closed.
How exactly does proprioception work? Well, there are sensory nerve fibers which are attached to the muscles, tendons, and joints in your body. Movement in those tissues or parts sends electrical impulses to the spinal cord which are then transmitted upward to your brain. In fact, we can even map out where specific limbs’ movements register on which portion of the brain! How does this help you, though? Your body uses proprioception to identify movement patterns, positions, or angles which might lead to injury and does its best to avoid that specific pattern, position, or angle.
Proprioception, just like any neuromuscular connection, is strengthened with activity. Activity of each specific kind helps your brain avoid problematic movements within that activity. For example, ice skating is a very specific kind of movement for the hips, knees, ankles, and toes. The more I ice skate, the more advanced my unconscious ability to pick up on and avoid problematic movement patterns while I ice skate. This might translate somewhat into another activity like cycling or rowing, but typically sport specific neuromuscular adaptations are most advantageous within that sport or activity.
If it helps, you might think of proprioception as the silent father of coordination. Proprioception helps the brain know where the body is before, during, and after a movement which helps the brain coordinate the next movement. Without proprioception, there is no coordination, though few people recognize proprioception and are more attuned to coordination.
What do you think?? Have you noticed an improvement with your bodily awareness after participating in an exercise program?? Comment and let me know!