Proprioception | What is it?

Close your eyes and move your arm. You can sense the new position of your arm in space, without opening your eyes to see where it is, right?

That is proprioception: the awareness of movement and positioning of the body. It happens naturally, and is sometimes called a ‘sixth sense’ that we are all born with. Though it’s a natural, subconscious function it can also be improved upon through training. The other day in John’s prehab class we worked on balance and coordination exercises to train proprioception. Afterwards I was curious about it, and I want to share what I learned.

A natural ability that can be trained

Proprioception is an ability we’re all born with. To lose proprioception would be abnormal. Sometimes people with brain damage have impaired proprioception. In the book “On Dialogue” David Bohm writes about a woman who had a stroke, and lost the ability to perceive where her limbs were in space. One night she woke up in bed and felt a hand on part of her body. Thinking that it was a stranger’s hand, she began fighting back. The more she struggled the more the hand struggled. It was actually her own hand, but she could not sense that.

Even in a dark room, or with your eyes closed, you can perceive where your body is in space. This is a natural, subconscious ability. You do not have to consciously think about where your foot is at any given time; you just know. However, it can be trained consciously, so that your perception of where your body is in space becomes more fine tuned. That is what we did in prehab, when we were doing coordination and balance exercises.

Training methods

Why would coordination and balance exercises train proprioception? I learned that the ability to perceive where our body is in space is due to ‘proprioceptors’, or nerve cells located in muscles throughout the periphery of the body. When we practice coordination, we use those specialized nerve cells. Here are examples of ways to consciously train proprioception:

  • juggling

  • standing on a balance board

  • balancing on one foot

  • slack lining

Have you heard of proprioception before? Have you ever trained this skill? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts and experiences!


On Dialogue” by David Bohm

Wikipedia: Proprioception