Word of the Month: Proprioception

David Zapatka

Have you ever fractured an ankle, leg or hip? Did you find it difficult regaining your balance and full control of your healed joint or limb, maybe instability or possibly even “knowing” exactly where it was? This can be very unsettling.

On a dead run last year I stepped into a concrete rain gutter and suffered an ankle avulsion fracture; 15 months later I’m still trying to regain full stability, balance and trust in what the ankle is capable of doing. I had strange feelings of not “knowing” exactly where my right foot was relative to the ground and lost a significant amount of stability. Even though the ankle was healing, I was learning that I needed to retrain my ankle and its connection with my brain. That’s when I was introduced to this month’s word; proprioception.

Proprioception – noun ˌprō-prē-ō-ˈsep-shən the sense of the relative position of neighboring parts of the body and strength of effort being employed in movement.

Origin – early 20th century: from Latin proprius ‘own’ + receptive.

Sense of position and strength in movement is provided by proprioceptors, muscle spindles, in skeletal striated muscles and tendons and the fibrous capsules in joints. The brain integrates information from proprioception and from the vestibular system into its overall sense of body position, movement and acceleration. A major component of proprioception is joint position sense. This involves an individual’s ability to perceive the position of a joint without the aid of vision. The initiation of proprioception is the activation of a proprioceptor in the periphery. The proprioceptive sense is believed to be composed of information from sensory neurons located in the inner ear and in the stretch receptors located in the muscles and the joint-supporting ligaments.

Proprioception is the basis used by police when conducting a sobriety test. The subject is required to touch his or her nose with eyes closed. People with normal proprioception may make an error of no more than 20 millimeters, while people suffering from impaired proprioception, a symptom of moderate to severe alcohol intoxication, fail this test due to difficulty locating their limbs in space relative to their noses.

Proprioception is what allows someone to learn to walk in complete darkness without losing balance. During the learning of any new skill, sport or art, it is usually necessary to become familiar with some proprioceptive tasks specific to that activity. Without the appropriate integration of proprioceptive input, it would be impossible to drive a car because we wouldn’t be able to steer or use the pedals while looking at the road ahead. We couldn’t keyboard or perform ballet. People would not be able to walk without watching where they put their feet.

Well, back to my SPRI balance dome to improve my proprioception…

Please submit any thoughts you may have on this month’s column or any word you may like to share with our readers along with your insights and comments  to [email protected]