What is proprioception?
Our joints and muscles are designed so that they can give feedback information to the brain in relation to their position in space. This feedback gives us the ability to reposition our limbs and head in a particular position with our eyes closed, maintain posture and generally understand where our body is positioned in space. This ability is known as proprioception.
A good example of proprioception is our ability to stand on one leg with our eyes closed. If you try this (be sure that you have something to grab on to so as not to fall) you will feel your ankle making subtle corrections as you maintain your balance. People who do not have good proprioception in their ankles are likely to easily sprain their ankle joints. Those who have had trauma to their ankles may have damage to the ligaments and rehabilitation is necessary to retrain this proprioception.
The flexion-extension of whiplash injury results in proprioceptive dysfunction in the neck either by impairing muscular and joint receptors or by altering sensory integration and tuning of signals to our brain. A Scandinavian study discovered that whiplash patients were significantly less precise in repositioning their heads after injury, but this improved after 5 weeks of rehabilitation.1
Another study found that cervical (neck) manipulation improved head repositioning in 20 patients with chronic neck pain. These patients had a 44% reduction in pain and a 41% improvement in head repositioning skill compared to only a 9% reduction in pain and 12% improvement in head repositioning following stretching alone.2
Dr. Woodward (MD) conducted a study into the effectiveness of chiropractic for 28 chronic whiplash sufferers. The patients were assessed independently by an orthopaedist. He found that 93% of patients improved with chiropractic care.3
- Heikkila (1996) Scand. J. Rehab. 28: 133-138.
- Rogers (1997) JMPT 20: 80-85.
- Woodward et al. (1996) Injury 27: 643-645.