What Is Sensory Motor Training Anyway?

Kristjanson et al. defines sensory motor training as “all the afferent, efferent, and central integration and processing components involved in maintaining stability in the postural control system through intrinsic motor properties” (Kristjansson & Treleaven, 2009). Basically, the sensory motor system is a complex system like a computer with all its wires that helps you stay upright and balanced. The system is made up of 3 parts: vision, proprioception, and your body’s ability to know where it is in space. This allows your body to function seamlessly throughout everyday life.

When the system is having some technical difficulties, you may be feeling not yourself. Kristjanson et al. notes that someone with sensory motor deficits may experience the following:

  • Dizziness
  • Unsteadiness
  • Vision problems
  • Cervical proprioception deficits
  • Postural stability deficits
  • Head and eye movement control deficits

(Kristjansson & Treleaven, 2009)

What Could Cause This?

There are many reasons why someone may be experiencing these symptoms and should be seen by either your Physical Therapist or Physician for a proper evaluation. That being said, these symptoms can also be related to a whiplash injury. Bhatnagar et al. reported “approximately 1.7 million Americans have a traumatic brain injury” (Bhatnagar et al., 2019). The authors also reported “More than 650,000 annual cases of TBI are attributed to falls and motor vehicle accidents” (Bhatnagar et al., 2019). Whiplash injuries commonly occur with motor vehicle accidents. During this type of injury, the head and neck abruptly moves backwards and forwards, causing a neck and/or cervical spine injury. The cervical spine also has a strong relationship with the sensory motor system. The cervical spine is most mobile aspect of the spine, which makes it the most vulnerable (Kristjansson & Treleaven, 2009).

This is sort of the same when you bump into a computer and a couple of the loose wires lose connection. When the computer doesn’t have all its wires, it can’t work properly. However, the solution is easy, reconnect the wires! The same rationale may work with someone truly suffering from sensory motor deficits due to a whiplash injury. Addressing those deficits during your Physical Therapy treatment has also been shown to decrease neck pain.

3 Exercises I Could Start With Today!

1. Gaze Stabilization: Start in a seated position. Pick an object on the wall in front of you and keep your eyes on it. While staring at the object, slowly start to move your head side to side or up and down. The goal is to keep your eyes on the object throughout the whole exercise. Start slow and then you can pick up the pace.

2. Saccade Exercises: Start in a seated position with two items (pens, highlighters, notecards ect.). Bring your arms out in front of you with each item in hand. Keeping your head still, move your eyes back and forth from item to item. Start slow and then you can move faster. If it is too easy, you can widen your arms further apart or change the angle of the two items.

3. Eye-head Coordination: Start in a seated position. Move your eyes to an object on the wall. After moving your eyes, move your head towards that object. Lastly, return to your starting position and repeat. If this is easy, you can increase the speed, angle, and also try closing your eyes.

    Author: Dr. Joe Vitale, PT, DPT


    Bhatnagar, S., Anderson, M., Chu, M., Kuo, D., & Azuh, O. (2019). Rehabilitation Assessment and Management of Neurosensory Deficits After Traumatic Brain Injury in the Polytrauma Veteran. Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation Clinics of North America, 30(1), 155–170. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pmr.2018.08.014

    Kristjansson, E., & Treleaven, J. (2009). Sensorimotor Function and Dizziness in Neck Pain: Implications for Assessment and Management. Journal of Orthopaedic & Sports Physical Therapy, 39(5), 364–377. https://doi.org/10.2519/jospt.2009.2834

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