Balance training using wobble boards and foam balance pads has been shown to reduce lower extremity injuries (Olsen et al. 2005, Myklebust et al. 2003) and improve balance in athletes (Bernier et al. 1998, Gauffin et al. 1988). This neuromuscular training is thought to improve proprioception, thereby reducing risk of injury.
Hungarian researchers investigated the proprioceptive training effects of a 20-week in-season wobble board exercise program in 10 handball players. Handball players are at high risk of ankle sprains. The athletes were measured for their ankle joint position sense using a “slope-box” test (Robbins et al. 1995), in which the subjects reported the direction of a sloped box they were standing on (“outward”, “inward”, “forward”, or “backwards”).
The training program (Download here) included static and dynamic balance exercises on a wobble board and was performed as part of their regular season training program. The handball athletes were compared to a control group of athletes from other sports who did not participate in the training.
After the training program, the handball athletes demonstrated a significant improvement in joint position sense. The authors also reported a 30% reduction in injuries in the balance-trained athletes. Unfortunately, their small sample size precluded the authors from suggesting the training program had a preventive effect.
In addition to this study being limited by a small sample size, the control group did not include handball athletes that participated in the same regular-season training program without the balance exercises. The balance-trained handball athletes also had significantly poorer proprioception compared to the control group at baseline, which the authors attributed to previous ankle injuries. Despite these shortcomings, this study supports balance training in athletes.
The authors concluded that their proprioceptive training was effective in improving proprioception in handball athletes. Thera-Band® wobble boards can easily be implemented as part of an in-season training program to help reduce lower extremity injuries in athletes.
Kynsburg A, Pánics G, Halasi T. Long-term neuromuscular training and ankle joint position sense. Acta Physiol Hung. 2010 Jun;97(2):183-91.