Saturday, July 7, 2012

Proprioception at Night

My life has been quite stagnant and boring lately, so I haven't had anything of interest to blog about. Plus my body is'nt cooperating lately so I haven't even been able to cycle much at all. So here is a blog a wrote nearly a year ago, which may be of some interest to anyone who runs.

Over the course of summer, it became common routine for me to do the
majority of my runs at night. This was in part due to my physical
therapy clinical rotation schedule, but mainly because I found myself
enjoying night runs more and more. I kept telling people how much I
was enjoying night-running, but I couldn’t put a finger on exactly why
I was enjoying it. I lived at my parent’s house in Martinsburg, WV
over the summer, and I did the majority of these night-runs on the
grassy and hard-packed dirt surfaces between the vast orchards and
hillside around the area. I didn’t run when it was pitch black, but
my visibility was nearly gone by the time I would finish my run. I’m
back in Morgantown, WV now to finish up my final semester of course
work at WVU prior to receiving my physical therapy doctorate next
spring [“fist pump”]. Two nights ago I decided to go out for my first
back-to-school night-run. Finally, it made sense to me why I enjoyed
running at night so much, as I passed through areas lit by road lights
and other areas of pitch black. The answer was
simple…Proprioception!!! What? Simple? Yes, here’s my explanation:
‘Proprioception’ is our body’s sense of its own position, balance and
movement. Proprioception provides us with ‘body awareness’ and is
commonly referred to as our “sixth sense”. There are 3 main sensory
systems which predominantly control our sense of proprioception: (1)
The Vestibular System resides in our inner ear, and it uses fluid to
detect changes in acceleration and position with respect to gravity.
[Don’t get caught up on this mechanism for the purpose of this
blog]. (2) The next proprioceptive mechanism is Vision, which uses
eye sight to orient our head and trunk and let us know which way is
‘up’. (3) The final proprioceptive mechanism is critical for running,
using our somatosensory (i.e. sensation from the body) system to
produce true body awareness. These sensory receptors are in our skin,
skeletal muscle, tendons, ligaments, bones, joints, and internal
organs. These receptors measure light and deep pressure, vibration,
heat, cold, ect.

(Sensation starting with the feet hitting the ground feeds the brain...And the brain creates the running form)

So what’s the point?...At any given time, we are predominantly using
these 3 systems in harmony to create body awareness. Jay Dicharry
(Gait analysis guru, running-injury prevention and treatment
specialist, and director of the SPEED and gait lab at UVA) notes that
most people are visually dominant. Jay says the problem with this is
that the processing of this sensory input in ‘slow’. On the other
hand, somatosensory information processes ‘very very fast’. Guess
what…Your feet are loaded with these somatosensory receptors. Are you
starting to put the pieces of the puzzle together yet? At night, when
vision is greatly reduced, you rely much more heavily on your
somatosensory system to provide proprioceptive input – ‘very very
fast’ sensory input. In essence you become better connected and more
in tune with your body. This is that sensation that I had been
struggling to define.

(Steeple Chase at Penn night)

During that run the other night, I noticed that my form felt more
relaxed, efficient, and fluid when I was running in areas of pitch
black compared to areas lit my road lights – I’m not kidding. I
currently do all of my runs in Newton Distance Trainers or the new
Newton MV2, and occasionally some supplemental barefoot drills. I
wear very thin socks, and I even take the insoles out of my Distance
Trainers to improve somatosensory input to my feet. Try it – taking
out that little bit of padding inference really does make a noticeable
difference. Like I said, your feet are loaded with sensory receptors,
and any material between your foot and the ground will hinder the
function of these receptors. These receptors also function more
optimally on a firm surface compared to a soft surface. There are
many good minimalist shoes out there now which allow you to take great
advantage of the somatosensory receptors in your feet – The thinner
and firmer the sole the better (for this application). Research has
found the somatosensory system to be highly trainable. Jay Dicharry
advocates the importance of practicing single leg stance (i.e.
standing on one foot) with your eyes closed to efficiently train your
somatosensory system for the critical mid-stance phase of the running
gait. I now appreciate this concept more after my experience of
running at night.