Joint Stability Exercises for Injury Rehab

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After an injury, it is essential for joints to return to proper functioning and support. A good rehab program will include exercises that target joint stability. This is most important following a lower extremity injury, where a weight-bearing daily activity such as walking needs to be supported.

Joint Stability for Lower Body Injuries

The first step for achieving joint stability after a lower-body injury is to assess the joints for local strength, control, or structural defects caused by the injury.

Your physician or therapist will check the joint and test for weakness or deficits in soft tissues (tendons, ligaments, and cartilage). Correcting these deficits may require taping, bracing, exercises, or possibly surgery.

Joint stability is attained through specific exercises that target balance, proprioception, range of motion, flexibility, strength, and endurance. In order to make a full recovery from an injury, an athlete must participate fully in their rehab program.

Neuromuscular Training and Proprioception

Neuromuscular training and proprioception are key to joint stability.

  • Neuromuscular control is an unconscious response to joint motions that occurs without awareness. It is how a runner adjusts to uneven pavement or shifts his weight to stay balanced on inclines.
  • Proprioception is the ability to sense the orientation of your body in the environment. It allows you to move your body and respond without having to consciously think about where you are in space. Proprioceptive information includes an ability to detect joint position, movement, direction, amplitude and speed of motion.

In theory, a joint that possesses a high level of neuromuscular control and a highly sensitive proprioceptive feedback system can respond appropriately to variations in forces placed upon it during activity and decrease the risk of injury.

The goal of proprioceptive exercises is to train joint proprioceptors to adapt to stimuli received either during or prior to the initiation of a potentially damaging movement.

Skills Training

After an injury, an athlete may need to perform specific exercises to regain specific sports skills and relearn movement patterns that were once automatic. Through skills training, an athlete can improve his ability to make adjustments quickly and decrease the potential for another injury.

Research indicates that patients who participate in neuromuscular retraining after an ankle sprain have better muscular activation and improved muscle reaction to changes in terrain than those who do not perform such exercises. Trainers have been using neuromuscular exercises to prevent and rehab ACL injuries.

Sample Lower Body Rehab Exercises

The following exercises can be used to rehab the lower extremity of an injury. Add the exercises slowly over several weeks as tolerated. These exercises should be combined with an appropriate and gradual range of motion and strengthening program.

You should always work with your own physical therapist to design the best program for your specific injury and limitations.

  1. One-Leg Balance: Try to stand on one leg for 10 to 30 seconds.
  2. One-Leg Balance with Eyes Closed: Repeat above with eyes closed.
  3. Balance Board Ball Toss: While balancing on a wobble board, balance board, or Bosu Ball catch and toss a small (5 pound) medicine ball with a partner.
  4. Balance Board with Half-Squats: While balancing on a wobble board, perform 10 slow, controlled half-squats.
  5. Step-Ups: Step up onto the balance board. Place a balance board (or soft pillow or foam pad) 6 to 8 inches higher than your starting point. Step up 10 times.
  6. Step Downs: Step down onto the balance board. Place a balance board (or soft pillow or foam pad) 6 to 8 inches lower than your starting point. Step down 10 times.
  7. Lateral Plyometrics: Perform a lateral (sideways) step-down and then step-up.
  8. Single-Leg Hops: Hop forward and concentrate on "sticking" the landing.
  9. Single-Leg Spot Jumps: Hop from spot to spot on the floor.
  10. Reactive Spot Jumps: Place numbered pieces of tape on the floor and as a partner calls out a number, hop to that number.

By Elizabeth Quinn, MS
Elizabeth Quinn is an exercise physiologist, sports medicine writer, and fitness consultant for corporate wellness and rehabilitation clinics.