Do Athletes Have Higher Proprioception?

Proprioception has been notoriously difficult to study scientifically because of the difficulty in measuring it.

This article talks about a recent study done in Shanghai. The study found that athletes have higher proprioception and seems to point to the fact that proprioceptive sensitivity is more related to specific joints rather than length of training time.

What does this mean for for you? Well, it appears that you can improve your proprioceptive feedback by focusing on particular joints but you won't improve it the longer you train.

Improving your proprioception by focusing on your inner body-mind dialogue will help to prevent injuries in the long run because of increased body awareness.

Proprioceptive sensitivity is the ability to integrate sensory information from mechanoreceptors and thereby determine body position and movements in space. This skill is commonly associated with sporting success, yet research has difficulty measuring proprioception, making it hard study.

Han (2013) had one hundred right-handed athletes competing at high levels in five different sports and twenty right-handed, non-athletic controls were recruited at the Shanghai University of Sport. All athletes had a minimum of two years of sport-specific training. The athletes were further divided into three levels:
1) Chinese National top 32 or regional top 3
2) Chinese National top 16
3) Chinese National top 6 and competing internationally

Each volunteer underwent the active movement extent discrimination apparatus (AMEDA), used to assess proprioception. This test involved a familiarization period of moving a single joint three times in order from smallest to largest, then the test involved 50-trials, where each position was presented 10 times in a random order.

Proprioception Testing in Athletes


The scores for each group were: aerobic gymnastics (0.680), swimming (0.662), sports dancing (0.667), badminton (0.666), and soccer (0.674). The mean for the non-athletic group was 0.641. There was no significant relationship between years of sport-specific training and proprioceptive acuity score for any of the joints tested. However, years of sport-specific training was correlated with sport competition level.


Although proprioception was higher in athletes, it was not correlated with more years of sport-specific participation. The sensitivity scores for the ankle, shoulder, and spine accounted for 30% of the variance between competition level achieved. This suggests having good proprioception at these joints is necessary for success. The lack of correlation between proprioception and years of training suggest proprioception may have a large genetic component or proprioception reaches a cap early during sports-specific training. Also, proprioception appears to be site specific, as some sports had greater proprioception at certain joints.
  1. Han J, Waddington G, Anson J, Adams R. Level of competitive success achieved by elite athletes and multi-joint proprioceptive ability. J Sci Med Sport. 2013 Dec 12. pii: S1440-2440(13)00514-8. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2013.11.013. [Epub ahead of print]


PHOTOS: HEADER by Jgcastor on Wikimedia Commons, FEATURED by Si-Boards on Wikimedia Commons

Author: Peter Tiedemann

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