An Explanation of the Proprioceptive System

by Liran Davidovich

An Explanation of the Proprioceptive System

A major sense in sensory integration, the proprioceptive system is one of three primary sensory networks that are linked, and yet act separately from one another. The other systems of this grouping include the vestibular system and the tactile system. The tactile system is a network of nerves that responds to pain and touch. 

One of the dysfunctions of this system results in tactile defensiveness, a condition in which a person feels extreme sensitivity when he is touched only lightly. This type of reaction can happen when abnormal neural signalsare conveyed to the brain’s cortex; this can also interfere with other cognitive processes.

In turn, this type of reaction can also cause the brain to be overly stimulated. As a result, the patient is unable to organize his thoughts correctly or react properly to external stimuli.

The Vestibular System

Source: Wikipedia 

The vestibular system, yet another critical system for survival, includes all the structures of the inner ear or the semi-circular canals that are able to detect movement or changes in the position of the head.

For instance, the vestibular system can tell you when your head is either tilted or upright, even when your eyes are shut. A dysfunction of this particular system can cause one of two different abnormalities.

For example, some children suffering from autism may be extra sensitive to any vestibular stimulation and, therefore, feel fearful of regular movements that are involved inactivities on ramps, swings, slides or hills.

They may also, as a result, have problems when learning to descend or climb hills. Not only that, they may feel apprehensive about crawling or walking on unstable surfaces.

When one looks at a child who is suffering from this dysfunction, he is often seen as clumsy. On the other hand, he may also seek intense sensory experiences that include such activities as spinning, jumping, or whirling. A child who reacts in this way is continuously attempting to stimulate his vestibular system.

Joints, Tendons and Muscles
The proprioceptive system references the components of the joints, tendons and muscles, each of which supplies a person with a subconscious awareness of his body’s position. When proprioception is functional, the position of the body can be instantly adjusted in various situations.

For instance, this system is the link that sends the messages to the brain that allow us to sit upright in a chair, step smoothly off a curb or manipulate items by utilizing fine motor movement, such using a spoon or holding a pencil.

Some signs of dysfunction can be seen in a pronounced difficulty in manipulating objects, such as snaps and buttons. Some patients may eat sloppily or exhibit an odd bodily posture as well.

Praxis Planning
Another area of proprioception is motor or praxis planning. Praxis planning is the ability to carry out or plan various motor tasks. In order for the system to work as it should, it depends on the receipt of accurate information from sensory networks so it can interpret the details effectively.

When a general dysfunction occurs, these three different systems cause various behaviors. For example, a child with autism may be under- or over-responsive to any sensory input, or his activity levels might be exceptionally low or high. He may fatigue easily or constantly move around.

Some children, on the other hand, may fluctuate between these extremes. Fine motor or gross motor coordination issues are also experienced when the above three systems are dysfunctional, leading to problems with language or speech and issues with underachievement.

Girl in Sensory swing
InYard's Therapy Swing 

Therapeutically, a swing has been shown to help with these responses. You can read more about the benefit of using sensory swing here.

Liran Davidovich
Liran Davidovich


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