Balance training is arguably the most important, but certainly the most forgotten part of any rehabilitation plan. Challenging the body in unstable conditions not only prevents the chance of a recurring injury, but can improve how we perform in athletics as well as everyday life.
Have you ever suffered an injury, went through treatment, only to re-aggravate the same injury a month later? Have you ever returned from an injury only to have a feeling where the injured area ‘just feels off’? Not pain or discomfort, but a sensation where the injured area just isn’t functioning like it used to. These issues can be attributed to changes in your nervous system and in particular a concept called proprioception.
What is Proprioception?
Proprioception is your body’s ability to know where it is in space. As an example, if you close your eyes and have a friend randomly move an arm and leg into a different position you would still be able to know where that limb is and how fast they moved it. This form of perception is done unconsciously through our nervous system. Our muscles, tendons, and joint capsules have an abundance of receptors called ‘proprioceptors’ which communicate with the brain through nerves and let us know where our body parts are in space.
Why is It Important?
With injuries like sprains and strains, we don’t only injure the stretched ligament and muscles; we actually damage the proprioceptors and nerves that innervate the joints and surrounding musculature as well. A recent study done on ankle sprains has shown that 17% of those suffering a Grade II sprain had damage to the peroneal nerve and 10% damaged the tibial nerve. In grade III sprains the number jumped to 86% with peroneal nerve damage and 83% with tibial nerve damage. Harm to these nerves alters our sense of proprioception, limiting our body’s ability to properly function properly after the injury. If rigorous activity is resumed before these nerves have a chance to heal and be retrained, the probability that you reinjure the same area is greatly increased.
How Does This Affect Your Recovery?
Too often athletes think that once the pain and swelling has subsided that their rehab is done and they can get back at it 100%. The problem is, if there are issues with our proprioception our brain can’t recognize where a limb is in space and as a result begins to load joints incorrectly. This sets us up to reinjure the same area later one down the line. By retraining the nervous system through balance and proprioceptive exercises we can dramatically reduce the chance of re-injury and greatly improve our performance after an injury.