Photo of a girl balancing on a log.
Build Better Balance with this Advanced Balance Exercise Program. Don Mason/Getty Images

Definition: Proprioception is the medical term that describes the ability to sense the orientation of your body in your environment. It allows you to move quickly and freely without having to consciously think about where you are in space or in your environment.

The way that we can tell that an arm is raised above our head, even when our eyes are closed, is an example of proprioception. Other examples may include your ability to sense the surface you are standing upon, even when you are not looking at the surface.

If you are walking along the sidewalk, and then turn to walk upon a grassy surface, your body knows how to adjust to the change in surface because of proprioception.

Proprioception comes from sensory nerve endings that provide our brain with the information of the limb position. There are specialized nerves in your muscles and joints that communicate with your brain and tell it when position your joint is in and how much stretch or strain in on the muscles surrounding a joint.

Many people perform balance and proprioception exercises after an injury or illness. After a total knee replacement, your physical therapist may work with you to help you regain your sense of your knee's position. He or she may have you perform balance exercises, like the T-Stance, or you may use a specialized exercise tool called a BAPS board to work on proprioception.

Understanding how proprioception affects your balance and your ability to navigate through your environment may be a key component to your successful rehabilitation after an injury.

When you visit a physical therapist, he or she may assess your balance and proprioception and prescribe exercises to help improve your proprioception. These exercise may challenge your balance, creating situations where you feel unsteady. This unsteadiness is necessary; it helps to improve your balance and proprioception.


Edited by Brett Sears, PT.

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