In school, we are taught about our five senses: vision, touch, hearing, smell, and taste. But as adults, we learn that the human body is more complex than this. We have three more senses: proprioception, the vestibular system, and interoception. These are ‘internal’ senses, as they help our brain learn about where our body is, how we are moving, and how we are feeling. In this blog post, we will be looking specifically at proprioception!
What is proprioception, and why is it important?
Proprioception is how your body knows what position it is in. It is the sense that enables us to know where the different parts of our body are, how they are moving, and how much strength our muscles need to use. Our muscles, joints, and skin all contain sensory receptors that contribute to proprioceptive input. This provides information that is used for motor movements and postural control. Walking up and down stairs, playing sport, and washing our hair are all examples of activities that rely heavily on proprioceptive input.
Proprioceptive input also lets our body know if something unexpected happens. For example, if you’re walking over rocks and you can feel that you are standing on an unstable rock, your foot and ankle will send this information to your brain. Your body can respond by using its arms to balance, and your eyes will quickly find a new rock to stand on.
Proprioception is also closely related to the vestibular system, and together they help us to develop body awareness, inform our sense of posture and equilibrium (balance), and help us to stabilize our head and eyes whilst we are moving.
What happens when it isn’t working properly?
When our proprioceptive system isn’t interpreting input correctly and responding appropriately, it can impact our everyday activities. Being clumsy, bumping into objects, playing ‘rough’, or kicking/throwing a ball too hard can all be examples of the brain not processing proprioceptive input appropriately. Children with ASD and other developmental disorders can also have extra difficulties with processing proprioceptive information.
What we do at OTFC!
At OTFC, we spend a lot of time focusing on proprioceptive and vestibular input. Running, crashing, squashing, jumping, crawling and squeezing are activities that provide strong proprioceptive input, and the deep pressure from these activities can have a calming effect by reducing arousal and anxiety.
By receiving this strong proprioceptive input, the brain has an enhanced opportunity to learn where its body is in space. This is linked to the concept of ‘body awareness’. For the body to be able to accurately control its muscles, the brain needs to be aware of where its body is located or positioned.
What can you do at home?
At home, doing ‘rough and tumble’ play, using a trampoline, or doing animal walks are fun ways of receiving strong proprioceptive input. Housework and chores can also be helpful opportunities for receiving frequent input. For example, daily proprioceptive activities could include sweeping, vacuuming, carrying things (such as their school bag or the washing basket), or packing away toys.
Activities such as swimming, gymnastics, and karate offer good opportunities for proprioceptive input, as well as building strength and endurance.
Sensory Integration: Theory and Practice, by Anita Bundy, Shelly Lane, & Elizabeth Murray
The Out-of-Sync Child has Fun: Activities for Kids with Sensory Integration Dysfunction, by Carol Kranowitz
Proprioceptive processing difficulties among children with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Developmental Disabilities, published in the American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 2012. Written by Erna Blanch, Gustavo Reinoso, Megan Chang, and Stefanie Bodison.