By Lauren Fournier, PT, DPT
A common problem called “poor kinesthetic sense” is often associated with patients who have had a concussion, vestibular disorders, or patients who experience neck pain and/or headaches. Kinesthetic sense is your awareness of your body’s movements. The word “kinesthesia” literally means “movement feeling” as it comes from the Greek words kines (movement) and aisthesia (feeling).
Kinesthetic receptors throughout your body communicate with your brain about the quality of your body’s position and movement, including its shape, effort and direction. This information is processed in real time, so your kinesthetic awareness continuously changes.
With compromised kinesthetic sense, you can’t accurately sense when muscles are relaxed or tensed or the level of use your muscles are engaged in. Consequently, those muscles remain tensed, until the point that the tension becomes painful. For however long your kinesthetic awareness remains dysfunctional, your posture and movement can’t improve and remains painful.
In order to address this issue, as physical therapists we use various methods, such as massage and stretching, for the neck muscles to decrease the tension. However, these methods are often temporary due to our habits promoting bad posture undoing the progress made. Some technology we use is a head mounted laser, as seen in the photo.
The patients wear this device on their heads and perform various exercises using a maze or target (also pictured).
One exercise is having the patient follow the path of the maze with the laser while maintaining proper posture. Another exercise uses the target, where the patient starts with the laser in the center of the target, closes their eyes, and then moves their head away from and back to where they believe the center to be. More often than not, the patient will be off target due to improper feedback provided by the dysfunctional kinesthetic sense. These exercises may sound easy, but they are actually more difficult than you would think and provide visual feedback to help reinforce the correct posture. By improving joint position and movement sense, it decreases muscle tension and pain and improves motion and function.