Making Sense of Proprioception
While people from different backgrounds may legitimately assign different meanings to the same word, it is desirable for communication and comprehension purposes if all who use ‘proprioception’, ‘kinaesthesia’ and related terms reach a general consensus as to their most appropriate meaning. This essay represents an attempt to define these terms in a manner which has validity and relevance for a broad spectrum of readers. It is also hoped that readers will gain a better understanding of the nature, functions and assessment of the proprioceptive system. The dominant theme of this paper is that the proprioceptive system has some functions which are sensory and others which are not. The sensory functions, collectively termed ‘proprioception’ (proprioceptive sensation or kinaesthesia), involve awareness of the spatial and mechanical status of the musculoskeletal framework. They include the senses of position, movement and balance. Proprioceptive sensation is also integral to developing motor control when learning new skills. Conversely, the contribution of the proprioceptive system to motor control during learned skills is largely mediated without sensation; as also are its roles in reflex protection of joints against potentially harmful forces and protection of the body against falls (balance).