Proprioception the little known sense

Published on 20th March 2022


Do you know a child or adult who trips over their feet easily? Pass them something and they may well drop it. They still get a hot chocolate moustache? 

Are the fidgety at the dinner table? Do they seem uncomfortable in their own skin? 

We are quick to label them as clumsy, but there may be a very real reason why they struggle in life and this is that they have poor proprioception. A little know sense that is vital to be developed to help people function successfully in life.

Proprioception what is it?

  • Smooth co-ordinated working of muscles
  • Registration of information from muscle to the brain and back that informs us how to respond
  • Having a good grasp of what your body is doing without having to look at that part of the body
  • Also known as kinesthesia

To get a sense of your own proprioception, stand on 1 leg with your eyes closed. You will feel your muscles around the ankle joint-peroneus longus and peroneus brevis working much more to compensate of the lack of sight.

How does it work?

Proprioception functions by proprioceptors located within muscles, tendons, and joints and the skin. These proprioceptors are  mechanosensory neurons that relay message to and from the brain. Imagine for a second going to pick up a very heavy box full of books. You go to lift and almost fall backwards because the box is empty! You had perceived the box as full and your brain had sent that message to the muscles in your arms and calculated how much effort to exert. 

To gain a full understanding 

Children struggle at school focusing, moving from class to class and either press to hard or too soft with their pencil. They literally don't know where their body is in space. I have heard of a boy gardening and putting a fork through his foot.

Exercises to develop good proprioception

Crawling on the floor

Homolateral and with fingers flat, opposite hand synchronous with opposite knee. Crawl forwards, backwards and sideways

Figure 8’s drawing large figures of 8 in the air, on the wall, in the bath in foam vertical and horizontal, crossing the midline of the body. Use both hands

Angels in the snow –build up to this

1/arms only, 2/legs only 3/arms and legs 4/right arm, right leg. Left arm, left leg 5/right arm left leg. Left arm right leg

  • Superman lying on tummy 
  • Stand eyes closed for 1 minute
  • Dancing
  • Propped up on tummy/reading/eating/jigsaw/
  • Colouring/watching tv 
  • Wheelbarrow race
  • Rocking on hands and knees
  • Simon says 
  • Box at dinner table under feet
  • Heavy blanket
  • Dynabands
  • Roll ball up and down back
  • Row row row boat

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