Try this right now. Close your eyes and try to touch your nose. If your neurological system is in working, order, this is an easy task. Your brain simply senses your body and its position, as it carves a path through space. This sixth sense is called proprioception.
An article published in 2012 in Physiological Reviews titled “The Proprioceptive Senses: Their Roles in Signaling Body Shape, Body Position and Movement, and Muscle Force” defined proprioception as “the senses of position and movement of our limbs and trunk, the sense of effort, the sense of force, and the sense of heaviness.” Proprioception engages the receptors embedded within the skin, muscles and joints, in order to instill an internal sense of our bodies. If you constantly sprain the same ankle, or bump the same hip against the same chair, your proprioceptive system might have some issues. There´s a good possibility that massage therapy can help.
Massage and Afferent Messages
Once you engage these receptors, afferent neurons, also called sensory or receptor neurons, deliver nerve impulses from receptors or sense organs towards the central nervous system. In his book titled “The Science and Practice of Manual Therapy,” author Eyal Lederman explains that that massage stimulates the afferent receptors on the skin´s surface. This stimulation wakes up dormant receptor neurons, and the wake up call improves proprioception.
This information should make perfect sense to anyone who practices a specific sports, studies dance or gymnastics, takes Clinical Pilates sessions or works with a personal trainer. Think of a movement that you repeatedly performed in poor form. After physically and clearly demonstrating the proper technique, and explaining your mistakes in full detail, you still continued to perform the movement incorrectly. The EUREKA moment occurs when your coach, instructor or physiotherapist manually places your body in the correct position. Your teacher has stimulated your sleeping afferent neurons.
This type of correction may or may not trigger permanent improvement of the specific skill. In other words, your wake up call might be temporary. If, through injury or misuse, you have permanently damaged your prorpioceptive fibers, you might need a more lasting solution. Research tells us that massage therapy might provide a solution.
What The Research Says
An article published in 2004 in “Advances in Physiotherapy” titled “The Effect of Stimulating Massage of Thigh Muscles on Knee Joint Position Sense” detailed the effects of quadriceps and hamstring massage on the joint position sense around the knee. If you have ever torn your ACL, or suffered any other sort of the knee injury, you might have impaired the joint position sense – and thus the proprioception – of these muscles. The research team reported that the massage group showed significant improvements in proprioception.
A combination of massage, personal training, physiotherapy and Clinical Pilates can improve proprioception. Make an appointment with one of our practitioners. Call Happy Physio on (08) 9272 7359 now.