Can proprioception really be improved by exercises?

Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc. 2001 May;9(3):128-36. doi: 10.1007/s001670100208.


There is little question that ankle disc training can improve ankle muscle motor performance in a unipedal balance task, most likely through improved strength and coordination [62] and possibly endurance. How much of the observed improvement in motor performance is due to improved ankle proprioception remains unknown. We have reviewed a number of theoretical ways in which training might improve proprioception for moderately challenging weight-bearing situations such as balancing on one leg. Although the relevant experiments have yet to be performed to test this hypothesis, any improvement would theoretically help to reduce injuries at these moderate levels of challenge. We question, however, whether these exercises can ever improve the reactive response required to prevent injury under the most challenging time-critical situations. If confirmed, this limitation needs to be acknowledged by authors and practitioners alike. Alternative protective strategies for the most challenging time-critical situations should be sought. We conclude that, despite their widespread acceptance, current exercises aimed at "improving proprioception" have not been demonstrated to achieve that goal. We have outlined theoretical scenarios by which proprioception might be improved, but these are speculative. The relevant experiments remain to be conducted. We argue that even if they were proven to improve proprioception, under the best circumstances such exercises could only prevent injury under slow to intermediate rate provocations to the joint musculoligamentous complex in question.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Afferent Pathways / physiopathology
  • Ankle Injuries / physiopathology
  • Ankle Injuries / prevention & control*
  • Ankle Injuries / rehabilitation*
  • Attention
  • Efferent Pathways / physiopathology
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Humans
  • Kinesthesis
  • Muscle Spindles / physiopathology
  • Physical Education and Training / methods
  • Postural Balance
  • Proprioception*
  • Reaction Time
  • Recovery of Function
  • Torsion Abnormality / physiopathology
  • Treatment Outcome