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Landing on your feet

October 14, 2017

You watch Aidan O’Shea or Kieran Donaghy leap high in the air to catch a ball. Do you ever wonder how they land squarely on their feet (mostly), without regularly smashing an ankle? Or have you wondered how you can touch your nose or strum a guitar with your eyes closed?

            We are all familiar with the five senses (I.e. sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing) but there is another  type of sense, often referred to as the ‘sixth sense’ which we don’t hear or think about very much. Proprioception is the name of this lesser known ‘sense’. It is the part of the nervous system that tells us where our body parts (eg foot, ankle) are in space at any given time. It is so tied up with general movement that we overlook its subtle influence.

            It is often only when we lose this sense that we become aware of its importance. This is common with injuries such as ankle sprains. It is also why we find it easy to ‘turn’ on the same ankle again on return to active sport. We often fail to retrain our lost proprioception faculty. For example with ankle injuries the ‘wobble board’ is a good retraining device. The irregular, erratic movements created while balancing on the board help to recreate proprioceptive pathways. There is some evidence that using taping techniques over the injured ankle can help in the relay of signals during the recovery phase.

            We are using proprioceptive retraining exercises to help the athlete get the proprioceptive impulses back under their unconscious control. Then you can focus on what to actually do with the ball.

            But proprioception is not only for athletes. It is important for everybody, especially as we get older, to engage in simple exercises to maintain this marvellous sixth sense.