The Unsung Hero of the Senses

The concept of proprioception is actually quite interesting. When broken down from its Latin root, it simply means perception of one's own, and it is a type of human sense. However, it is different from the normal senses, where people sense something through their external reality, such as smelling baking cookies or hearing a dog bark. This type of sensing refers to being able to sense the orientation of your own limbs, and it's something everyone, or at least most people, have. Without proprioception, it would be impossible to walk unless we watched our feet.

How does proprioception work?

No organ provides us with proprioception, as is the case with other types of senses. Where our noses let us smell those cookies and the inner workings of the ear let us hear that dog, proprioception comes from the entire nervous system, using the nerves within the body, rather than on the surface, to provide us with the internal information that tells us where our limbs are and what they are doing.

Because it works like a motor activity, it is possible to train the body to become better at recognizing where the limbs are in space and what they are doing at any given time. Professional athletes, for example, are often masters at this.

At the most basic level, proprioception is what lets people behind the wheel of their car know what their hands and feet are doing while they are watching the road. It lets you sit in a darkened movie theater watching the screen while popping popcorn into your mouth with your hand without needing to look at what it is you are doing. While it is extraordinarily rare, some people do not have the sense of proprioception, which cannot be replaced.

They are unable to do many of the things that others take for granted, such as:

  • Driving-They are unable to watch their hands and feet and keep their eyes on the road
  • Walking without having to look at foot placement every step of the way

Making Proprioception Better

Proprioception is an overlooked sense, mostly because it happens automatically for everyone. This ability is simply a part of being human. Many do not even realize that this is a sense in the standard definition of the word, but it certainly is. Just as some people have a better sense of smell or better vision than others, that's also true with proprioception.

Those who want to improve their ability can do so, but it does take training and practice to improve the proprioception sense. It's an innate part of us, but you can improve it by working on it. As with other senses, you will likely be able to attain a penultimate level that's unique to you, just as some people have better hearing or taste.

questions? Speak with a Sports Neurology expert!

For more information about proprioception, please call Vernon B. Williams, MD, Inc. I, Dr. Williams, am a Board Certified Neurologist with two decades of experience. Since 1997, I have been aiding legal professionals as a sport concussion expert witness. If you are in need of neurology expertise for a medical case, I would be happy to share my insight with you.

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