Fort Myers physical therapists

FOCUS Physical Therapists Explain Proprioception and Body Awareness

Proprioception is a medical term that refers to the body’s ability to sense itself. It is the sense that allows us to perceive the location, movement and action of our own body parts and their relation to external objects and forces around us. Our FOCUS physical therapists usually explain it with a simpler term: Body awareness.

Proprioception is what enables us to judge how we move and position our limbs, how much force to use and how best to balance. An example might be one’s ability to kick a ball or walk without looking at your feet, move a spoon to your mouth without looking at it or touch your nose even though your eyes are closed. It’s closely tied to our ability to control our movements, and it’s guided by the body’s receptors (skin, joints, muscles) that connect to the brain via the nervous system. Vision can play a role in proprioception, but it’s not inherently necessary. In fact, some evidence suggests it’s already present in newborns.

Many things can impact proprioception. Drinking alcohol is one example. (That’s why one of the standard field sobriety tests involves testing the ability to touch your nose while you’re standing on a single foot.) Some injuries and certain medical conditions can impact it too. Our physical therapists at FOCUS have treated many kids whose parents and caregivers report them to be “clumsy,” “uncoordinated” or “sensory seeking.” They might report their child is pressing too hard on the paper when writing or unable to apply the right amount of pressure for tasks like brushing their teeth or hair.

Often what these kids are experiencing is proprioceptive dysfunction.

A child who needs to pay attention to where there body is in space at all times will not be as easily able to attend to other important information, such as what is happening in the world around them. The good news is there are many strategies our physical therapists and occupational therapists can employ to help improve it.

How Physical Therapists Address Proprioceptive Dysfunction

When we’re working with children who have motor delays or sensory integrative dysfunction, our physical therapists and occupational therapists use many specifically-designed games and activities to improve body awareness.

We can start out simply by reviewing and identifying the various body parts, and then practice simple commands. We’ll instruct the child to do things like, “touch your elbow,” “kick your leg,” “shake your head,” and “wave your hand.” From there, we’ll work our way to tougher commands like, “put your right hand on your left knee” and “put your left elbow on your right thumb.”

Some activities can include:

  • Playing Follow the Leader or Simon Says.
  • Setting up an obstacle course that allows children to go in between, around, under and over objects, describing it the whole time.
  • Giving tasks of various “heavy” activities, like lifting, carrying, pulling or pushing. (This helps reinforce where muscles and joints are in space.)
  • Practice drawing pictures of themselves or other people and then labeling the various body parts. (This helps with fine motor skills too.)
  • Providing visual, external cues, such as an “X” on the floor where the child is supposed to stand, sit or walk to.

If you have questions about helping your child with body awareness proproceptive issues, please ask our occupational and physical therapists!

FOCUS offers pediatric physical therapy in Fort Myers and throughout Southwest Florida. Call (239) 313.5049 or Contact Us online.

Additional Resources:

Proprioception, 2009, J.L. Taylor, Encyclopedia of Neuroscience

More Blog Entries:

Identifying, Treating Pediatric Vestibular Dysfunction Involves Occupational, Physical Therapy Collaboration, March 15, 2019, FOCUS Fort Myers Physical Therapists Blog

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