Proprioception Exercises

In memories of all immobile dogs that were not given a second chance

What is Proprioception Exercises?

Proprioception, from Latin proprius, meaning “one’s own”, “individual,” and capio, capere, to take or grasp, is the sense of the relative position of neighbouring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.

In humans, it is provided by proprioceptors in skeletal striated muscles (muscle spindles) and tendons (Golgi tendon organ) and the fibrous capsules in joints. It is distinguished from exteroception, by which one perceives the outside world, and interoception, by which one perceives pain, hunger, etc., and the movement of internal organs.

The brain integrates information from proprioception and from the vestibular system into its overall sense of body position, movement, and acceleration. The word kinesthesia or kinæsthesia (kinesthetic sense) strictly means movement sense, but has been used inconsistently to refer either to proprioception alone or to the brain’s integration of proprioceptive and vestibular inputs.

Balance is the ability to adjust equilibrium at a stance, or during locomotion to adjust to a change in direction or ground surfaces, whereas proprioception is the perception of stimuli produced by the body in relation to movement and changes in body position. Proprioceptive training includes activities that may be performed at low or high speed and require an awareness of limb position in space. Example of activities include walking in circles or a figure eight and walking across obstacles of various shape, height, and spacing. Balance exercises are exercises requiring rapid responses to changes in a surface, such as walking on a trampoline, or standing on a balance or wobble board. Other balance and agility exercises include cavaletti rails, exercise balls, rapid changes of direction while trotting and galloping, ball playing, tug of war, dancing, and wheelbarrowing.


Professor of Orthopedic Surgery & Director of Surgical Service

Diplomate of the American Academy of Pain Management, is a a founder and past-president of the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management.

Janet B. Van Dyke, DVM
Diplomate American College of Veterinary Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation, CCRT, CEO

Ludovica Dragone, DVM, CCRP
Vice President of VEPRA, Veterinary European of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Association.

Andrea L. Henderson, DVM, CCRT, CCRP
Resident, Canine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation

Steven M.Fox, MS, DVM, MBA, PhD
President Securos. Inc

The Science of Proprioception Exercises

Therapeutic exercise is perhaps one of the most valuable modalities used in canine physical rehabilitation. Some of the common goals of therapeutic exercise are to improve active pain-free range of motion, muscle mass and muscle strength, balance, performance with daily function, aerobic capacity, help prevent further injury, and to reduce weight, and lameness.

Common activities include standing exercises, controlled leash activities, stair climbing, treadmill activity, “wheel barrowing” (for forelimb activity), and “dancing” (for rear limb activity). Other activities include jogging, sit-to-stand exercises, pulling or carrying weights, walking and trotting across cavaletti rails, playing ball, taping a bottle or syringe cap to the bottom of an unaffected foot to encourage weight bearing, slinging the contralateral good limb, and using balance balls or rolls. In addition to being an important method to assist an animal’s return to the best function possible, the equipment needed for therapeutic exercise is relatively inexpensive and similar principles apply to a variety of individuals and conditions. Therapeutic exercise programs designed for the home environment also provide an opportunity for owners to become actively involved in their pet’s rehabilitation.

The Benefits of Proprioception Exercises

Exercises that develop core muscle strength and proprioception are vital to maintain optimal fitness for all dogs, but especially for canine amputees. The best exercises to do with pets going through rehabilitation are using inflatables of different shapes and sizes, including unstable surface work and weight bearing activities. These fitness games help with core strengthening, increased range of motion and flexibility, sensory and perceptual stimulation, joint alignment, and balance control.

Remember, walking is great for endurance, but it does not build strength.

  • Non weight bearing exercise
  • Relief from pain, swelling and stiffness
  • Promotion of relaxation
  • Joint mobilization
  • Cardiovascular fitness (heart and lungs)
  • Muscle strengthening, maintenance & restoration
  • Increase in range of motion of affected joints
  • Improved circulation