Proprioception, What is it good for?

Knowing where your body is in space is very important. How else would you know when to swing your racket at the ball? Or when to jump over the crack in the sidewalk, or dodge the tree branch while hiking in the woods? This sensory feedback about our body positioning is not only helpful for avoiding trouble, but it also helps charge our brain.

We have many different nerve endings in our body that give our brain information about the world around us such as temperature, taste, sight, sound, pressure, and touch to name a few. The brain, which is like a super computer, needs all the input so that it can make proper decisions about what to do with our functioning. We also have other nerve endings that bring problem or dysfunctional information to our brain. These are called nociceptors. They gather what we call the noxious stimuli of our environment and body and sent it to the brain. Some of these signals are for pain, inflammation and dysfunction. These are the yellow and red flag nerves telling our brain to pay attention to certain areas because there may be something awry.

So where does proprioception fit in? It is one of the “good guys”. Our muscles and joints are loaded with these receptors so our brain knows where we are and where we are going. It works in tandem with vision to help us know where our body is, yet it is not dependent on our sight. That is why we can still touch our nose, drink a glass of water or kick and throw a ball with our eyes closed. Can you imagine if we couldn’t walk with our eyes closed? One way to test how developed or underdeveloped this system is, is to stand on one leg with eyes open then close your eyes and see if your balance is worse or the same. The majority of us will experience a more difficult time with the eyes closed when vision input is not there to help.

The really interesting thing is that they have a secondary function that can charge the brain. Research has shown that these receptors can also charge our brain, giving it energy to function better. Have you noticed yourself or heard your friends say that they can think better after going for a run or a walk? I have experienced this myself. In fact in school they suggested studying after exercise because you brain is calmer and more apt to learning at that time. Dr. Roger Sperry, who won a Nobel Prize for his brain research has said: 90% of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by movement of the spine. This statement is revealing because the majority of the proprioceptors in our body are along the spinal joints and small supporting muscles of the vertebrae. Movement of the spine charging the brain is analogous to the a windmill creating energy from the movement of the wind.

So I mentioned proprioception as being the good guys, well it turns out that the pathways these nerves use to bring the signals to the brain share the same pathways of some of those nociceptors that bring pain and inflammation signals.

So depending on which sensation is more prevalent, that is what the brain has to use as input from the body. Have you ever smashed your finger? What do you do next? Shake it fast and furious like you are trying to win a prize for speed? When you are doing that you notice it does not hurt as much, and when you stop moving it the pain returns. The motion signals will compete and push aside the pain signals with all that movement happening. That is why it feels less painful when you are shaking it around.

So what is the take home message you ask? Stay active and keep moving. The more motion you have on a daily basis the better off you body and brain will be. Especially movement of the spine. If there is a fixation or subluxation of the vertebral joints, then less motion is happening and more inflammation is happening. By getting adjusted when needed, that will ensure you are getting more energy to your brain.