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.