A Kinesthetic Sense of Proprioception

Nate Boyle
proprioception

Proprioception is the awareness of limb position and spatial orientation, and it is crucial for motor function. The proprioceptive sense monitors the body’s position with the environment and transmits that information to the brain.

Proprioceptive training for improved motor function

Training is an essential tool for people with disabilities, others who face a loss of proprioception from a stroke or TBI. For example, stroke survivors can practice the necessary motor skills to improve proprioception deficits. It is also crucial for athletes who need to be aware of their body position and spatial orientation to execute a movement.

Proprioception is our body’s sense of adjacent body parts’ relative position and the strength of effort employed in their movement. It determines input from sensory receptors in muscles, tendons, and joints. 

These receptors send information to the brain about the body’s position in space and changes in that position. And in turn, the brain uses this information to control movement and maintain balance.  

It isn’t easy to pinpoint the exact role of proprioception in any movement for two specific reasons. One being that proprioception guides and fine-tunes motor activity—the other that it generates the force needed for action.  

Proprioception is very closely related to vestibular sense, which provides information about the head position’s role. Both are located in the inner ear and connect to the cerebellum, a part of the brain that is important for coordination and balance.

Making Sense of Kinesthesia

Kinesthesia is the perception of movement and spatial orientation arising from stimuli within the body. It is also known as proprioception.

Common kinesthetic reactions include a sense of movement and motion and include a sense of balance. And without kinesthetic sense, we would be unable to move, walk, run, or even stand.

So to accomplish this, the body contains three types of proprioception feedback loops through the somatosensory system. Receptors that provide information about limbs, joint position muscles, the speed and direction of movement, and the amount of force exerted.

Somatosensory system

The somatosensory system is responsible for integrating the information from the proprioceptors and transmitting it to the brain.

The somatosensory system comprises receptors located in the skin, muscles, joints, and tendons. The receptors are either mechanoreceptors or nociceptors.

Mechanoreceptors detect changes in pressure, vibration, and stretch on the skin.

Nociceptors detect potentially damaging stimuli. Information from these receptors transmits through sensory nerves to the spinal cord and from there to the brain.

What are the three types of Proprioceptors?

Proprioceptors are specialized sensory receptors located in joints, muscles, and tendons. They provide information about the speed and direction of muscle contraction around the joint position.

The three types of proprioceptors are muscle spindles, Golgi tendon organs, and mechanoreceptors.

Muscle Spindles

Muscle spindles are stretch receptors found in muscles. They respond to the stretching of muscle fibers.

These receptors respond by increasing or decreasing muscle tone, depending on the amount of stretch. They are sensitive to the speed of stretching. Suppose the muscle stretches slowly, the muscle spindle contracts, causing the muscle to contract. If the muscle stretches too quickly, the muscle spindle relaxes, causing the muscle to relax.

Golgi Tendon Organs

Golgi tendon organs are tension receptors found in ligaments and tendons. They respond to the force of muscle contraction. The muscle tension generated during muscle contraction pulls on the tendon, stretching the tendon organ.

The tendon organ responds by sending a signal to the spinal cord and then back to the muscle to stop contracting. If no afferent signal relays, the muscle keeps contracting and can cause injury.

More mechanoreceptors

Mechanoreceptors are pressure receptors found in the skin, joints, and muscles. They respond to pressure changes in the skin.

Meissner’s corpuscles exist in the dermal papillae of the skin. They respond to vibrations and light touch.

Pacinian corpuscles are found in the subcutaneous tissue and respond to deep pressure.

Ruffini corpuscles are located in the joints and respond to stretch and the bending of the joint.

Merkel’s discs are located in the dermal papillae of the skin and respond to light touch. They are associated with hair follicles.

What exercises increase proprioception

Those forms of training utilizing both passive and active movements with and without visual feedback tended to be most beneficial. 

Joshua E. Aman et al

There are many interventions and exercises to practice proprioception for the awareness of limb position and spatial orientation.

  1. Balance exercises
  2. Reaction drills
  3. Hand-eye coordination drills
  4. PNF Stretching
  5. Tai Chi
  6. Yoga
  7. Pilates
  8. Swimming drills

Several different proprioception training tools available

Equipment such as these can be used to improve proprioception and balance.

  1. Foam rollers
  2. Bosu balls
  3. occluded goggles
  4. Slack line
  5. TRX
  6. Rings

Proprioception is a system of communication between muscles, joints, and the brain. If this system is impaired after an injury or stroke, it can lead to poor coordination and balance. If required, find a physical therapist to help improve your proprioception and overall functional mobility.

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