What Is Proprioception?

Medically Reviewed by Christopher Melinosky, MD on March 07, 2024
3 min read

Proprioception, otherwise known as kinesthesia, is your body’s ability to sense movement, action, and location. It’s present in every muscle movement you have.

Without proprioception, you wouldn’t be able to move without thinking about your next step. Proprioception allows you to walk without consciously thinking about where to place your foot next. It lets you touch your elbow with your eyes closed.

Proprioception results from sensory receptors in your nervous system and body. Most of these receptors are located in your muscles, joints, and tendons.

When you move, the receptors send detailed messages to your brain about your positions and actions. Your brain processes these messages and works with your vision, nervous system, and vestibular system to create your perception of where your body is and how you’re moving.

Certain conditions can make proprioception difficult. You may have these symptoms if you have a proprioception disorder:

  • Falling when you walk across uneven surfaces
  • You don’t understand your own strength. For example, you may not know how much force to use when writing or picking up a brick
  • Uncoordinated movement, such as finding it hard to walk straight
  • Balance issues, which can lead to problems when you walk up or down stairs or cause you to fall

These conditions may cause proprioception disorder:

If you’re having symptoms of proprioception disorder, your doctor will ask about your health and medical history, including recent surgeries and existing medical conditions.

They’ll then examine you and do proprioception tests. These include:

TTDPM Test. The threshold to detect passive motion is a test is used on different joints throughout your body. Your doctor uses a machine that moves one of your limbs in a particular direction at different speeds while you’re blindfolded. You report which direction you think the movement was.

‌JPR Test. Similar to the TTDPM test, the joint position recognition test involves a machine and blindfold. While you’re blindfolded, the machine moves one of your joints in a certain direction. Then, the joint is returned to its initial position. You’ll try to reenact the motion on your own.

‌Thumb Finding Test. The doctor moves your hand in a certain position. With your eyes shut, you touch the thumb of one hand with your other forefinger and thumb.

Distal Proprioception Test. The doctor moves your big toe up and down in front of you. You then try to duplicate this movement with your eyes closed.

Sequential Finger Touching. You touch your thumb with each of your fingers, starting with the forefinger.

‌Romberg Test. This is the most common proprioceptive disorder test. For 30 seconds, you stand on your own with your eyes closed and your heels together. Your doctor will observe any swaying or other signs of imbalance.

Field Sobriety Test. This is the same series of tests law enforcement officers use to test drunk drivers. The standardized field sobriety test (SFST) includes the walk-and-turn (WAT) test and the one-leg stand (OLS) test.

  • For the WAT test,  you walk in a straight line by placing one foot in front of the other
  • The HGN test requires you to follow a slow-moving pencil or other object with your eyes
  • For the OLS test, you stand with one foot off the floor 

If your doctor thinks your proprioception disorder is the result of an injury or another medical condition, you may also need these tests:

  • A nerve conduction velocity test, which uses electrodes to see how well your nerves work
  • X-rays
  • Blood tests
  • MRI scan 

Along with treatment for whatever is causing your proprioception disorder, you’ll probably also do exercises and therapy to improve your coordination and balance.

Here are some popular ways to treat proprioception disorder:

  • Tai chi, which can boost proprioception in your legs
  • Core exercises, which improve balance
  • Physical therapy, which boosts strength, motor skills, and balance
  • Somatosensory stimulation training, which uses exercises or electrical stimulation to improve proprioception  

Proprioception training can also reduce your risk of injuries and muscle deterioration. Talk to your doctor about what exercises would benefit you the most, given your medical history, overall health, and age. Your doctor will create a custom treatment plan for your proprioception disorder.