Proprioception and Knee Pain

GREG LARAIA, ATC & STREETS 101 FOUNDER

In 2006 approximately 250 million people worldwide were diagnosed with Osteoarthritis (OA). OA is characterized by degeneration of the joint cartilage and underlying bone, leading to joint pain, stiffness and physical disability. That is just OA–imagine all the other people in the world with other causes of knee pain. So what do we do about it?! Well to start I’m going to introduce you to proprioception activities and why they can be beneficial for knee pain.

Proprioception is the awareness of the position and movement of the body. A recent article examined the benefits of adding proprioception exercises into the rehab process for people with knee pain. This resulted in decreased pain and improved quality of motion during functional activities, as well as improvements in stability and balances. Proprioceptive exercises did not help improve mobility or stiffness at the knee joint.

Proprioception exercises can easily be added into your routine as they don’t require high energy or a lot of time to get the benefits. I recommend doing the exercises at least three times per week.

Some common proprioceptive exercises are:

  • Standing on one leg and alternating eyes open and eyes closed for about 30 seconds

  • Heel Walking: without looking down

  • Toe Walking: without looking down

  • Wedding Marching: without looking down

  • Rocker Board (Balance Board): without looking down, progress to eyes closed

  • Lateral Walking

A disproportionate number of runners will experience knee pain at some point, whether it’s from over training, poor gait mechanics or muscle imbalances it’s most likely going to happen. Taking proactive action is the best chance to prevent knee pain. Proprioception exercises will connect you to where your feet are relative to your body with each step. For example, let’s say you are running and see a pothole in your line of sight. The ability for you to run right over it and not step in it is proprioception. Same goes for your ability to lift your feet over roots on a trail run without looking down or falling over–proprioception is protecting you!

Weinstein SL, Jacobs JJ, Goldberg MJ. Osteoarthritis of the knee. N Engl J Med. 2006;354(23):2508-2509.

Hee Seon Jeong PhD, Sung-cheol Lee PhD, Hyunseok Jee PhD, Jun Bom Song MS, Hyun Sik Chang MS CSCS, Sae Yong Lee PhD. Proprioceptive Training and Outcomes of Patients With Knee Osteoarthritis: A Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of Athletic Training. 2019;54(4):418-428

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