Proprioception and what it is

Proprioception is the internal sense of movement and orientation of the body’s trunk and limbs in space, as well as the sense of force, effort, and heaviness. It enables people to know where their limbs are in space without having to look at them and is integral to complex body movements such as in sports. The proprioceptive system is made up of sensory receptors in the inner ear and other receptors called proprioceptors in our muscles, joints, and tendons that send sensory information about our limb’s positions to our brains. Muscle spindles are the proprioceptors found in the muscles and they send information to other sensory neurons about a muscles stretch and length during a contraction. The amount of muscles spindles increases in muscles that require fine motor control. Golgi tendon organs are the proprioceptors found in tendons and they send information about the tension occurring in a muscle.

Proprioception is a completely involuntary sense, meaning you don’t have to think about it for it to work, but is perceived on both the conscious and unconscious levels. Without proprioception, one wouldn’t be able to multitask because they would need to look at where their limbs are in space in order to even know where they were. The proprioceptive sense deteriorates with age and the elderly can be at an increased risk of falls because of it.

Proprioceptive Dysfunction, problems with proprioception

Those with Proprioceptive dysfunction:

• Have difficulty with postural stability, the ability to hold oneself upright and use postural muscles to their fullest potential.
• Have difficulty with motor planning, so what is unconscious conceptualizing of what each limb needs to do in an action becomes a frustrating and difficult conscious experience for them.
• Have difficulty gauging pressure needed when completing a task with limbs.
• Have difficulty executing planned movements; motor control
• Have poor body awareness in general
• Have difficulty grading movements
• Seem to have poor endurance and weak muscles
• Play too rough as kids, and crashes into and jumps off objects often
• May write too dark or light on papers
• Misjudge the weight of objects
• Might accidentally hurt animals because of too much force used

Children with proprioceptive dysfunction might end up becoming shy because of their difficulties and might end up not participating in physical activities at school. Physical activities are usually not enjoyed by them due to the difficulty and stigma around not being able to participate like others. Activities that require closing of the eyes (such as washing one’s hair in the shower) might also be avoided due to inability to carry out such tasks.

Treatment of proprioceptive dysfunction

Since proprioception is one of the senses and more importantly one of the “body senses”, occupational therapy and sensory integration are powerful ways of treating proprioceptive dysfunction. While seeing an occupational therapist, they (children with this condition) will be given a sensory diet that has certain sensory toys and may include techniques such as the Wilbarger brushing protocol, which is a massage technique meant to reorganize the nervous system. One can use a trampoline to develop a better sense of proprioception as it will allow the muscles a chance to feel it in a deeper fashion. Massages will also help a child feel their limbs easier and thus develop their proprioceptive sense. These are just a few treatment options for children with proprioceptive dysfunction.