What is proprioceptive input?

Proprioceptive input or proprioception is sensory input we gain into our joints and muscles to tell us about our movements and body position.

How Does Proprioception Work and Help Us?

Proprioceptive input is received through heavy work that requires use of our joints and muscles through activities such as pushing, pulling, and carrying. Proprioceptive receptors are found in our skin, muscles, joints, ligaments, and tendons. The receptors send information to the brain then help to tell the body where he is body is in position within space. These receptors give information about body position without sight so when you close your eyes, you can visualize and know where your body is in relation to your desk, bed, or table in a room. Additionally, proprioceptive input can help you to navigate through a dark room or hallway at night without bumping into furniture.

When proprioceptive messages are not being transmitted and decoded correctly such as information about our muscles relaxing and contracting and joints bending or straightening, then it is known as proprioceptive dysfunction. Proprioceptive dysfunction presents itself with kids who are clumsy, uncoordinated, and have difficulty performing basic normal childhood tasks and activities.

What Are Signs of Proprioceptive Dysfunction?

Proprioceptive dysfunction can present in a variety of ways. It can present through sensory seeking behaviors, poor motor planning, body awareness, or motor control, and postural instability. Sensory Seeking Behaviors, which is when a child may be constantly moving, touching/smelling objects, risky behaviors with climbing and jumping from high surfaces without awareness for safety with himself and others. You may see the following in a child with sensory seeking behaviors:

  • Walk to hard, push too hard, bang too hard write too hard, play with objects too hard, play too rough hurting self or others
  • Be the loud ones, rough ones, crashers, movers, shakers, runners, jumpers, and bouncers
  • Constantly moving, rocking, fidgeting
  • Jump off of or crash into ANYTHING he can
  • Chew on pens, pencils, clothing, objects or bite fingers until they are raw
  • Enjoy deep, heavy bear hugs, hangs or leans on people, does not seem to be aware of other people’s personal space

Poor or difficulty with motor planning, body awareness, motor control, or grading tasks: difficulty “motor planning”, which means to problem solve and figure out which body part is needed to move in a certain way or complete an activity. For example, walking then moving to skip or hop then run or to navigate playground equipment going from climbing up a ladder, sitting down to slide then moving to the swings. Kids without proprioceptive dysfunction can do these movements automatically, but for kids with proprioceptive dysfunction, this seemingly simple task can be hard and frustrating. Difficulty executing those planned movements, “motor control”, which is where the brain may know what to do, but they can’t figure out how to make their body do it. Difficulty “grading movement”, which is when the body knows how much pressure to exert during a task. For example, holding a pencil just right (not to light or hard) when writing, grasping a plastic cup without crumpling or dropping it, turning the page of a book without tearing it, pouring a drink without sploshing. You may see a child have the following with difficulty in motor planning, body awareness, motor control, or grading tasks:

  • Difficulty climbing, running, riding a bike, doing jumping jacks, hitting a ball, roller skating, etc.
  • Difficulty tying shoes
  • Frequently bump into objects and people accidentally
  • Trip and fall often
  • Difficulty learning to go up and down stairs

Difficulty with “postural stability”, which is the ability to maintain one’s posture throughout different movements and positions. For example, adjusting movements and controlling body through an obstacle course that consists of stepping up and down stones, crawling through a tunnel, and standing on a balancing board. You may see a child have the following with postural instability:

  • Slumping at desk, dinner table etc.
  • Appear to be “limp” and lethargic all the time
  • Props or rests his head on the desk/table when working
  • Have poor posture during motor tasks
  • Difficulty with standing on one foot and other balancing tasks

Kids that have proprioceptive dysfunction may avoid typical play activities or routines. They may be shy, afraid to try new things, not want to participate in sports, have poor confidence and esteem in oneself because they have difficulty performing and completing activities that we may view as normal or typical of childhood play.

How Can Proprioceptive Input Be Incorporated into Play?

Proprioceptive input can be regulated or targeted through play activities that incorporate heavy work, jumping, pulling, pushing, carrying, and resistive work. For example, water pouring, digging in dirt or sand, tug of war, modeling play, Legos, animal walks, climbing on play structures are some activities that are beneficial for children with proprioceptive dysfunction.

If you think your child struggles from proprioceptive dysfunction, contact Peak Pediatric Rehabilitation for a pediatric evaluation to assess your child’s current performance and determine his or her needs of how we can help.

Compression and weighted vests are a great way of giving a child deep proprioceptive input for prolonged time. Please consult with an Occupational Therapist to implement this with your child to ensure proper wearing time and weight.
Another great form of deep proprioceptive input in jumping and crashing, using a mini-trampoline and beanbag or pillows to crash provides great input, and can be really fun at the same time! Of course always have an adult supervising and keeping the children safe.