How good is your balance? Can you run without watching your feet? What about finding the light switch in the dark? Can you touch your finger to your nose with your eyes closed? Your body’s awareness of where it is in three dimensions is critical to your ability to function effectively in this world. This body awareness depends on specialized nerve endings called proprioceptors.
Proprioception is one of those background physical processes that make up your body’s total IQ. Proprioceptors are specialized nerve endings located in your muscles and joints that inform your brain about your body’s position in three-dimensional space. You’re able to write legibly because proprioceptors are sending instantaneous data about the angles of the small joints of your fingers and wrists as your pen moves across the page. You’re able to run on the beach because proprioceptors are continuously sending signals to your brain about the changing shape of the uneven surface of the sand. (1)
Similarly, it is well known that older adults experience more frequent falls than do younger adults. This can be summarised in one phrase and concept… ‘poor proprioception’. (2)
Proprioception is so vital that it is described by Nobel Prize Winner Roger Sperry as an essential brain nutrient. We know that proprioception is ultimately integrated at higher brain centres and is used to influence posture. I could go on and on about the importance of proprioception… and we would see an increasing body of evidence to suggest that the longer a patient’s history of things like low back pain the greater the neurological consequences upstream in the brain itself.
Our patients are often walking around with all manner of functional inadequacies and joint positioning deficits, oblivious to it all until something is injured. Even worse, many of our patients are really ‘proprioceptively starved’ in a sense, as they work in sedentary occupations and rarely exercise.
As chiropractors, our job is to give back to our patients the proprioceptive stimulation that they need and where they need it.
- Wong JD, et al: Can proprioceptive training improve motor learning? J Neurophysiol 2012 Sep 12 [Epub ahead of print]
- Howe TE, et al: Exercise for improving balance in older people. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2011 Nov 9(11):CD004963.
- 3. Tsao H, Galea MP, Hodges PW. Reorganization of the motor cortex is associated with postural control deficits in recurrent low back pain. Brain 2008; 131: 2161-2171
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