The Proprioceptive Sensory System
Is Your Body Aware?
The Proprioceptive Sensory System
Most of us have learned or discovered that we have five senses: Sight, Smell, Hearing, Taste & Touch. However, there are three hidden senses that typically do not get mentioned unless you go searching. These are the Proprioceptive, Vestibular and Interoception sensory systems. All these sensory systems interact together and have a large influence on the way our body and its nervous system senses, perceives, interprets and engages in the world around us. When we consider perception, regulation, modulation, movement, functioning and interaction there are actually even more systems involved. One main sensory system that plays a big interactive role is the proprioceptive system.
Proprioception is the recognition and response to the body’s position in space. It has an internal feedback system is sensory information the body is receiving from its muscles, tendons, joint and ligaments. It allows the body to automatically react to changes in the force and pressure gives body movements and object manipulation. Information comes from both active movement and passive movement.
When you close your eyes, can you feel where your arms and hands are? Are they down by your side or out in front of you? Where are your feet while you are standing? Your internal proprioception sense is sharing information to tell you where your body is in space.
When you are standing barefoot on a sandy beach, what input is your body getting from the sand? Are your feet gripping the ground to keep you standing? Are your feet sinking into the sand and your muscles become slightly tightened to keep you upright?
The proprioceptive system is related to our praxis, or motor planning and helps us to understand how to move our bodies. We are able to plan and execute motor tasks given feedback from the proprioceptive system to coordinate our movements.
As an example, have you ever gone to pick up something that you “thought” was really heavy and you used too much force to pick it up and the item went flying out of your hands across the room? In that moment, the praxis (motor planning) and your feedback from the proprioceptive system were giving your body sensations about the object.
Here are a few indicators of Body Awareness or Proprioceptive Difficulties:
Bumps into people, objects, doorways often
Poor awareness of personal space (often too close to someone’s face or body)
Falls down easily or frequent falling
Slumps in their seat (poor posture) or often rests head down on arms while working
Has difficulty knowing how much force to use with activities/objects (breaks things easily or has difficulty opening/closing objects, writes with too little or too much pressure)
Difficulty coordinating movement (may have to watch their movements to figure out how do something- looking in a mirror)
Enjoys jumping and crashing into things
Constantly moving and fidgeting
Chew on pencils, clothes, toys or prefers crunchy & chewy foods
May appear lethargic
Difficulties with attention
Stomps feet when walking
May pinch, bite, kick or headbutt
Cant sleep without being hugged or held
Activities that provide input through the joint and muscle receptors are commonly used to assist in providing proprioceptive input and typically have a calming effect on the sensory system. Input can include exercise-based activities such as animal walks, jumping jacks, therapy band exercises, jumping on a trampoline. Proprioceptive activities can also be included in functionally daily activities, such as digging in the garden, planting flowers, vacuuming, wiping down surfaces, removing wet laundry from the wash machine, walking with a backpack with some books. Input can also be added into a variety of settings or environments with drinking from a straw or sports bottle, writing with a weighted pencil/pen or wearing Spandex, Lycra or elastane clothing.
Accommodations or Adaptations to address Proprioception or Body Awareness:
Heavy work input through push & pull activities (tug-of-war, pulling a full wagon, wearing a backpack with books, pushing a wheelbarrow, mopping floor)
Animal walks ( bear crawl, crab walk, donkey kicks) Wheelbarrow walk
Weighted items: weighted blanket, vest, ankle weights, weighted lap pal
Lycra Material items: Body Socks, Lycra sheets, Lycra tunnels
Big bear hugs
Steamroller with therapy ball
Shoveling snow or dirt
Roll up in a blanket (Cocoon)
Fidget tools/Squishy stress balls
Therapy band on chair legs
Jumping on a trampoline
Chewy, crunchy foods
Massage or deep pressure down through shoulders
Bouncing on a Therapy Ball
Proprioception plays a big part in one’s ability to perceive & regulate movement as well as engage and interact in one’s surrounding environment. Adequate proprioceptive processing is important for not only achieving developmental milestones, but proprioception and touch also assist with the sense of embodiment. The ability to have, perceive and receive sensations, muscle sense and body awareness, are important for a healthy self-image.
-Trina Rice OTR/l, MBe., CF