Proprioception is a unique mechanism of sensitivity in the human body. This sense lets us grade the force, the amount of tension and the direction of movement in reaction to a particular stimulus. This sensory system conveys messages to the body for reacting to stimuli through the central nervous system with the help of mechano-sensory neurons located within muscles, tendons, and joints.
Precisely, this system automatically informs the body to apply more force while lifting a heavy box and less force while picking a piece of paper. While performing an activity, the brain considers the present position of the body and in turn, processes the information to propel the body to the sequential position to complete the task. The muscles work in coordination with the eyes and ears to convey information to the brain and bring about the said activity.
Children develop an excellent proprioceptive sense during free play activities that allow movement and exploration of the surrounding. Playgrounds are a great avenue for developing this sense. Monkey bars, climbing walls, ropes, ladders, swings, seesaws and bouncing on trampolines form a strong proprioceptive sense. Activities like swimming, gymnastics, karate and yoga also contribute to enhancing this sense. Juggling helps in improving reaction time and increases efficiency in movement along with spatial balance.
Proprioceptive training is given to athletes for prevention of injury and rehabilitation of injured athletes. There are specially designed devices available for proprioception training like shoes with balls on the soles designed to make athletes work harder to balance. The training also helps to improve muscle strength and flexibility, thereby enhancing athletic performance.
While learning a new skill or sport, one needs to get familiar with proprioceptive tasks specific to that activity to facilitate proper integration of the proprioceptive input, mainly if the skill includes tasks involving movements of the arms and legs without looking at them such as throwing a ball, riding a bicycle. Trained central nervous system and sensory receptors get conditioned to be more responsive and perform better in accomplishing the skill due to better body awareness in space.
While the vestibular system helps maintain the balance of the body, proprioception deals with the sensing of different body parts in space without looking at them. Both these senses work in conjunction to facilitate proper movement of the body and maintain balance.