Movement is complex, to say the least. Sensory input and output must happen in order to create movement in our bodies. Our brains have the incredible capacity to manage this complex information and coordinate our movement. Any factors that adversely affect this sensory input and output can interfere with accurate mechanics, balance, and body control.
We don’t have one type of nerve that notifies the brain of all of the changes in our environment, but instead, we have several different neural pathways that communicate this information to the brain in numerous ways. For example, one specialized nerve sends impulses regarding temperature, pain, and poorly localized touch. A second group of specialized nerves conveys proprioception, pressure, vibration and highly localized touch. To test the difference between poorly localized and highly localized touch, you can do this experiment: touch the skin around your lips and the back of your neck with two fingers both close together and several inches apart. You will note how easy it is to discern the double touch around the lips and but not so easily on the posterior neck. This demonstrates that nerves vary in their sensitivity. You also probably noticed the temperature of your fingers as a discreet sensation demonstrating another sensory input.
In addition to the sensory input from the skin described above, additional impulses arise from muscles that help us maintain muscle tone and coordinated movement. Unconsciously, our muscles are regulated so that opposing muscles groups contract and relax alternatively. Let’s use running as an example to illustrate this point: the quadriceps contracts against a relaxed hamstring group and then the hamstring contracts against a relaxed quadriceps group. Fortunately, this is all done in the background of our subconscious, so that we do not register the amount of muscle stretch or tension.
The above information is vital for the brain to know where we are in space, which is scientifically referred to as proprioception. Scientists further classify proprioception as conscious or unconscious. We have a conscious awareness of the position of our joints through the nerves that carry impulses from the joint itself. We have an unconscious awareness of impulses that arise from muscles and tendons that further inform the brain of our position in space.
There is much valuable scientific research on the role of proprioception. For example, studies show that healthy, elite athletes already have exceptional ankle proprioception when compared to non-elite athletes. In sports, our ability to perceive the position of a joint in space is most important in the ankle and is closely followed in importance by the shoulder and the back.
I tell you all of this scientific background information to build the case for understanding how proprioception is critical to an injured athlete. For example, it is not the support of an ankle brace that enhances recovery from an injury. Rather, it’s the increased benefit of proprioception that occurs when one wears an ankle brace that seems to reduce the likelihood of a repeat injury.
In his comprehensive review of The Role of Ankle Proprioception for Balance Control in relation to Sports Performance and Injury, author Jia Hahn makes this observation:
"Regardless of the type of intervention—passive or active—central processing of ankle proprioception is likely to be critical for balance control. If this is the case, ankle proprioceptive intervention should focus on central processing mechanisms to improve balance control in order to enhance sports performance and minimize injuries."1
With this scientific evidence, we are proud to introduce the High Top Helix. This simple Helix increases sensory input and enhances proprioception.
The idea for the High Top Helix originated when a good friend of ours developed a foot drop as a complication from an injury and surgical procedure. The High Top Helix most certainly helped with his foot drop, but in addition, we noted significant improvement in his movement. And when we began experimentation with the High Top Helix, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that the addition of the Helix increased both proprioception and balance as compared to observations we noted when he wasn’t wearing the Helix.
My personal experience with the High Top Helix was also noteworthy. A skeptic by nature, I questioned the accuracy of the observations by my colleagues: How could this simple device increase proprioception?
I consistently work to enhance my tennis game. Most recently, in particular, I was working on keeping my head steady while running in order to enhance ball tracking while playing tennis. I became acutely aware of the movements necessary to stabilize my head and was focusing on balance and stability. When I started playing tennis with the High Top Helix, I discovered an increased awareness of the position of my ankle with even the slightest movement. I experienced increased sensory input on the back of my ankle caused by the attachment to the dorsal shoe (via shoe lace attachment). In addition, the increased sensory input did not decrease with time, all the while the benefits increased. I was able to move more smoothly, see the ball better, set up better, and hit more consistently. All of this was achieved by simply increasing the sensory input on my ankle.
Next, we field-tested with athletes to test our initial findings. Athletes were asked to wear our High Top Helix on one or both ankles and provide feedback. The feedback confirmed our impressions of increased proprioception. Many users likened the neural feedback to that provided by the old high top tennis shoe that is no longer available.
While we have yet to scientifically study the benefit of the High Top Helix, we do have an abundance of positive testimonials and feedback from various athletes. You can rest assured that our “testers” do not have a conflict of interest in making their assessments. To learn more about the High Top Ankle Helix, click here.
1. Jia Han, Judith Anson, Gordon Waddington, Roger Adams, and Yu Liu, “The Role of Ankle Proprioception for Balance Control in relation to Sports Performance and Injury,” BioMed Research International, vol. 2015, Article ID 842804, 8 pages, 2015. doi:10.1155/2015/842804