Proprioception & Vestibular Exercises
Hanieh Abraheh (Paediatric Occupational Therapist) shares information on supporting pupils with proprioceptive and vestibular sensory needs:
Activities to promote proprioceptive discrimination
The proprioceptive system’s receptors are located in our muscles and joints and are mainly stimulated by resistive activities (pushing and pulling against something) or by stretching. Proprioceptive input helps develop body scheme, and has an organising effect, helps obtain and maintain optimum levels of arousal. Try and spend 10-15 mins a day at least doing any of these activities.
- Climbing on rope nets and rescuing animals on the top
- Crawl through the tunnel whilst pushing a weighted ball or a heavy object
- Tug of war games: Pull a rope or a bicycle inner tube
- Wheelbarrows: Student walks on hands while someone supports their hips or legs
- Steam Roller: Student to lie on stomach over large ball (therapy ball) with hands on floor and gradually walk forward. When they collapse, roll the ball over them with firm pressure, as appropriate. Please monitor their reactions to the pressure at all times; do not apply excessive pressure over their chest.
- Make a big pile of cushion using sofa cushions, small cushions or foam blocks and get student to jump on the spot and then crash into the soft pile of cushions.
- Encourage student to lie down on their back and pretend to ride a bicycle with their legs.
- Heavy loads: Encourage student to help move furniture around, carry books, boxes of toys, heavy balls etc. When appropriate ask them to help with lifting equipment (integrate this in your daily routine as much as possible)
- Encourage student to lay on tummy while propping with forearms flat on the ground to write, play games, or puzzles etc.
Activities to promote vestibular discrimination
Vestibular activities include any movements that involve the head moving through space. To stimulate the vestibular system use activities that are stop and go and that occur in a variety of planes. Vestibular input supports the development of body scheme, motor co-ordination and praxis. Encourage movement with varying speed, fast, alternating, unpredictable movements, start and stop unexpectedly, encourage angular head movements, bending and fast spinning.
- Walking on the rope net without holding on. Avoid falling. For an extra challenge ask student to carry a weighted ball or a tray with a beanbag/small size ball on it
- Bouncing on a therapy ball whilst playing catch
- Long rolling along mats/carpeted area to knock over skittles/plastic blocks/tower with foam block • Rolling or bouncing on big ball or peanut ball, see ball activities listed below
- Encourage feeling movement with eyes closed, e.g. bouncing on the ball with their eye closed
- Balancing on steppingstones whilst carrying a tray with a small size ball on it. Avoid losing balance or dropping the ball. For an extra challenge you can place steppingstones with a large gap or in a zig-zag way.
- Encourage identifying body position with eyes closed
- Encourage going through an obstacle course with eyes closed, e.g. going through the rope net with eye closed, crawling through the tunnel with eye closed. General activity ideas using the following equipment:
- Encourage student to bounce up and down on the trampoline. Do 10 jumps at a time and then have a break, repeat this process 3 or 4 times.
- Play catch with a heavy ball whilst bouncing.
Use the trampoline as part of an obstacle course Balance Board:
- Encourage students to jump on the steps and hold their position when they land on the first spot (with your help at first). When they are confident enough let them balance by themselves. See how long they can balance for. Hopefully they will be able to hold his balance for longer.
- If student is at the stage where he is balancing well, throw a ball to them to make it more challenging. You could also ask them to throw beanbags/ balls/or any other toy into a target whilst they are balancing.
- Walking heel-to-toe along a straight line. Weighted balls:
- Carrying weighted balls using both hand and jumping through hula-hoops (placed flat on the floor) with both feet at the same time.
- Playing catch (encourage them to start from short distances and progress to longer distances).
- Bounce on the trampoline whilst holding the weighted balls.
- Playing catch whilst bouncing on the trampoline using heavy balls.
Therapy Ball & Peanut Ball:
- Students to lie on their tummy over the ball. They need to roll over the ball to touch the floor with their hands, walk forward with their hands and then roll back. For an extra challenge you can ask them to reach for a bean bag and aim at a target with one hand whilst balancing on the ball.
- Lying on tummy roll over ball and ‘walk’ with hands to crash onto soft pillows or mats.
- Lying on their tummy roll over the ball to play various games. Use games such as building blocks, constructions games and puzzles. Obstacle courses: Obstacle courses help a lot with motor planning, regulation and organisation.
- Set up obstacles (using foam blocks, tunnels, ropes, blocks, rings on the floor etc.) and create a simple course for students to go through in a great, linear circle; crawl under or over, go through, and throw at a target. Progressively make the obstacles more difficult and challenging. As you design the course, mutter prepositions to yourself: up, down, in, out, over, under, across, through, between, beside, into upon, around, etc. Alternate the obstacles so that students vary the body position and kinaesthesia, as proceeds from one challenge to the next. Do not tell them how to approach the obstacle; let them figure it out by themselves. Ask students to go through the obstacle course 2-3 times.
- For extra challenge guide them through the games with less instructions/help. Try to incorporate the trampoline, therapy ball, crushing into pillows, crawling, balancing beam, and steppingstones. Adjust the level of difficulty each time so that students always find it challenging.