Spolight On Proprioception: The Sixth Sense

Spotlight On Proprioception: The Sixth Sense

What Is Proprioception

Often referred to as your sixth sense, proprioception is your body’s powerful connection between sensation and movement and it is a sense that is hard to appreciate until lost. The presence of proprioceptors in our body and therefore the existence of proprioception gives the ability to accurately touch the tip of our nose with your finger, to consistently throw a ball, or balance on one foot, all with your eyes closed with out any visual cues.
It is through proprioception, that even blindfolded you are aware if your arm is positioned above your head or simply hanging by your side. Your proprioceptors enable you to tell whether your head is turned to the right, or left, tipped backwards or forwards, or positioned centrally on your shoulders. All this may not seem that important, but imagine if you couldn’t sense any of these things without actually looking at your limb to know what it was doing and where it was in space..? If this was the case then simple tasks like going for a walk, making a hot drink, or brushing your teeth could become at best challenging and at worst would actually be hazardous to your health. Luckily thanks to all our little proprioceptors and proprioception, we can move about in the world performing a variety of complex tasks without needing to consciously focusing on where we are in space.

Situations Where Your “Sixth Sense” Can Become Impaired

The sense of proprioception is disturbed in many neurological disorders, as well as following musculoskeletal injury. The most common day to day example of this, is should you fall asleep on your arm, or sit with your legs crossed for too long and as a result your arm, or foot goes tingly and numb (that dead arm / dead leg sensation). In this situation, sensory information is impaired and the spatial awareness and feedback regarding limb position that is normally coming through is affected, you can still move your arm and you can still walk around but it feels a bit like someone else is controlling that limb. You no longer have your normal innate awareness of what your limb or appendage is doing without actually looking at it. This is your proprioceptors on the fritz.
Another circumstance where people can experience impaired proprioception, is following suffering an injury like a common inversion ankle sprain. Someone who has sprained their ankle, will often present with inferior balance control when compared to the unaffected side. This impairment may be only present in the acute situation, however can cause chronic postural control issues if not addressed. Ultimately impaired proprioceptor function can lead to an increased risk of re-injury, as your body fails to recognise and react as well to perturbations in foot and ankle position, before it is too late, and as a result the ankle re-sprains due to a failed ability to recognize positional changes appropriately in the lower limb and injury occurs. This situation is not exclusive to ankle injuries any injury to a joint or the surrounding structures can just as easily impact feedback mechanism at the anatomical location and have potential consequences.

Disclaimer: Sydney Physio Clinic provides this information as an educational service and is not intended to serve as medical advice. Anyone seeking specific advice or assistance on Spolight On Proprioception: The Sixth Sense should consult his or her physiotherapist, podiatrist, or general practitioner.