Healthy Blog

What is Proprioception of the Ankle? Can Physiotherapy Restore It After an Injury?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Proprioception is also known as the Joint Position System (JPS).  JPS is a system that allows the joints to send a continuous stream of information to the brain about muscle use, joint position and movement.  This allows us to know subconsciously where our limbs are in space without looking and it’s also the sense that produces sudden reflex actions when we sense danger.

For example, close your eyes..... do you know exactly how your hands are placed? Of course you do! That’s your proprioception at work.

Co-ordination

JPS is very important for co-ordinating all our movements and in terms of sports, where good co-ordination is crucial. Following injury to ankle joints and ligaments, the joint position receptors located within them can be damaged. This interferes with the joint position information that’s usually sent to the brain, and the messages are conveyed much slower. As a result, the joint feels unstable and odd in the sense that “you don’t completely trust it not to give way”.

Balance

Once you’ve damaged the proprioception or JPS, it can cause you to move awkwardly with decreased co-ordination in ordinary activities and in sports. Loss of JPS also affects balance and this interferes with the ability to avoid injury by quick and co-ordinated movements.  

Fortunately, physiotherapists are able to re-train the JPS system with special exercises.   In some cases, injured athletes have gained a heightened JPS sense after physio treatment for an arm or leg injury and improved their performance!

Mobility

Following an ankle injury the doctor may need to immobilize it in a plaster cast to ensure the bones heal in the correct alignment.  When the plaster comes off and the doctor is satisfied that the bones are healing well, the physiotherapist takes over. 

If a cast hasn’t been necessary, the physiotherapy exercises should be started as soon as possible after the injury.  This is important because the early scar tissue is still soft and can be broken down by the physiotherapist.  If you don’t get physiotherapy early on, the scar tissue becomes rigid and causes permanent restriction in the flexing and rotating movements.

Proprioception exercises

Massage, heat treatment, joint manipulation and stretching are the best way to get an injured joint back to normal mobility.  Muscle exercises fortify the muscles that control the joints and special proprioception exercises, like balancing and ankle disk training restore the nerve-muscle control.

Physiotherapy reduces your vulnerability to the same injury in the future and speeds up recovery - so you can return to your daily activities and sports in good form!