Proprioception explained

physiotherapy with balance board

How to improve your deep muscular feel with balance training

Not only does the brain take in information from our sensory systems to understand our environment and our orientation within it, it also sends instructions back out to our muscles.

To keep our vision clear when the body is moving, the brain uses information from the balance organs to control the muscles around the eyes. This process, known as the vestibulo-ocular reflex, moves the eyes to compensate for the movement of the body or the head. For example, if you rotate your head to the left as you read this, your eyes will automatically track to the right.

The brain also uses information from the proprioception system to keeps us upright and balanced in dynamic situations. Signals from the brain to the larger muscles of our legs and trunk keep us steady when we're standing on a moving bus or a rocking boat. The brain orchestrates tiny muscle micro-adjustments that keep us moving smoothly when we're walking or running over uneven ground. And it also directs quick balance checks that keep us from falling over when we're pushed or when someone bumps into us.

Two areas near the base of the brain—the cerebellum and the brainstem—are heavily involved in coordinating proprioception inputs and outputs. Most of the time, we respond without having to think about it, and we are often unaware of these ongoing adjustments.

Proprioception (or kinesthesia) is the sense though which we perceive the position and movement of our body, including our sense of equilibrium and balance, senses that depend on the notion of force (Jones, 2000).

From: Psychology of Learning and Motivation, 2013

Proprioception: The ability to sense stimuli arising within the body regarding position, motion, and equilibrium. Even if a person is blindfolded, he or she knows through proprioception if an arm is above the head or hanging by the side of the body. The sense of proprioception is disturbed in many neurological disorders. It can sometimes be improved through the use of sensory integration therapy, a type of specialized occupational therapy.


Proprioception, the awareness of deep pressure and the position and movement of limbs, is mediated through receptors in muscles, tendons, and joints. They relay information to the spinal cord and brain via large Aα and Aβ myelinated fibers. Proprioceptive information is used to adapt body position and gait, and defects in the proprioceptive system may lead to ataxia. The lack of position sense in a limb may be demonstrated by placing the limb in an abnormal position. Unimpaired animals will correct this abnormal position directly. 

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