The Role of Exercise in Movement Health
We typically think of exercise as helping to improve muscle strength, joint mobility, and overall cardiovascular and muscular endurance. Most people do not consider that a key benefit of exercise is to improve body and movement awareness. Body tissues such as joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments, all contain proprioceptors. Proprioception means “sense of self”. Proprioceptors are sensors that relay information such as muscle length, muscle tension, and joint position to the body’s processing centers for movement control. This information then is used to inform appropriate movement. For example, if you are walking on an uneven surface and your ankle starts to turn, the proprioceptors in your ankle ligaments help direct the ankle muscles to contract to prevent an ankle sprain.
Proprioception is essential for body coordination, balance, skilled movements, and the performance of basic functional tasks. Body and movement awareness depends upon ongoing stimulation of these proprioceptors. In other words – you have to move regularly in order to maintain this feedback loop between your sensors and your movement system. When movement declines for any reason, this system can break down. For example, as people age, sometimes they are less active. This negatively impacts their proprioceptive capabilities and can translate into diminished balance. Balance impairments in turn can lead to injury. Injury further compromises proprioception, and a vicious cycle will ensue.
This is where exercise comes in. Exercise will engage the body proprioceptors, and help restore their connections within the movement system. This leads to more coordinated and efficient movement and improved balance. Especially following injury, it is important to restore normal sensory function through prescriptive exercise. And who has the greatest expertise in managing orthopedic injuries with exercise prescription?
Answer: your Physical Therapist…
Marcia Spoto PT, DC, OCS