Have you ever noticed how, once you hurt yourself, that area seems to get re-injured? For example, you stub your toe on something, and then proceed to stub the same toe twice more in the same evening? One of the explanations behind this frustrating phenomenon has to do with proprioception: your own awareness of where your body parts are in space. Unfortunately, injuries can affect proprioception. For example, if you are walking along your hallway, your brain knows exactly where your toes are because the nerves in the toes send messages about toe position to the brain (that’s proprioception). When you stub one of those toes, its messages can get interrupted by the injury. As you continue walking (maybe after letting out a few expressive words), you may see an obstacle in your path, which your brain will naturally plan to avoid. Unfortunately, without accurate information of exactly where your toe is in space, your brain can’t make a movement plan for it to avoid the obstacle as easily as it usually can- hence, sadly, you experience a “re-stub” as your toe collides with said obstacle.
The same principle can apply to bigger injuries, like ACL tears and ankle sprains. During these injuries we often hurt the structures responsible for giving information about your limb’s position to your brain. This means that, in turn, your brain doesn’t have as much of the information it needs to plan safe movements for you, and you can end up with a re-injury.
So how do you avoid this? Rehabilitation of course!
When your physiotherapist designs your post-injury rehabilitation plan, they can include exercises designed to help you regain proprioception in the joints you injured. Furthermore, they can also use manual therapy techniques which help improve the proprioceptive ability of joints. This not only helps with regaining function after your current injury, but also helps reduce your risk of re-injury!