The Proprioceptive System

The Proprioceptive System

Proprioception is the unconscious perception of sensations that informs a child of their joint position, muscle tone, movement, and body position. It is what allows the brain to know where each body part is and how it is moving. Proprioceptive input also works with the vestibular and visual system to help a child adapt and give them a sense of balance, position and movement.

Through adequate processing of the proprioceptive system, a child can hold his or her body upright, push, pull, and carry with the ability to automatically modulate the amount of force and pressure needed. It gives the information to exert the appropriate force to pick up a bucket of water versus a bag of cotton balls. It allows a child to throw a ball 5 ft. or 25 ft. without consciously making adjustments.

Postural background movements are subtle, spontaneous body adjustments that make overt movements of the hands, such as reaching for a distant object, easier. These adjustments depend upon good integration of proprioceptive and vestibular input.

Motor planning (praxis) is the ability of the brain to conceive an idea, organize and carry out a sequence of unfamiliar actions. (the ability to learn new things) The ability to motor plan relies on integration of proprioceptive, vestibular and tactile input.

Poor proprioceptive processing is related to decreased body awareness. A child having difficulty with this sensory input may be confused with his or her body in space and may have weak or poor muscle tone and have difficulty maintaining posture. The child will have difficulty changing his or her body in order to keep from losing balance. They may have difficulty jumping, running or climbing. They may have difficulty with muscle planning and the coordinated use of muscles in activities such as tying, buttoning or zipping. They do not have the ability to easily direct their bodies to perform activities in a smooth, coordinated manner and in the right sequence of activities.

This lack of body awareness blocks the development of a body schema. Body schema is an internal awareness, or map, of the relationship of the body and body parts to each other. Information for body schema is primarily gathered by the proprioceptive system although other systems do contribute. Information is continuously being gathered and updated or corrected. Previous movement patterns are accessed when new skills are being learned.

How the Proprioceptive Sense Affects Everyday Skills

Proprioception works closely with the tactile and vestibular systems, with overlapping functions. These functions include:

  • Body Awareness
  • Motor Control/Motor Planning
  • Grading of Movement
  • Postural Stability
  • Emotional Security

Characteristics of Proprioceptive Dysfunction


  • Always moving, jumping, crashing, stomping feet.
  • Bumps and crashes into people and objects.
  • Craves to be hugged tightly.
  • Prefers clothes that are tight fitting.
  • Loves to roughhouse.
  • Does not understand “personal space” of others.
  • May be considered aggressive with peers.
  • Chews constantly on objects like shirt collars, sleeves, pencils, toys and gum


  • May be clumsy, bumping into objects
  • Has difficulty knowing where body is in relation to himself, objects and people
  • May appear to be uncoordinated with body movements.

Regulation Input Problems:

  • Has trouble judging the force needed for fine motor activities, may break toys, pencils and other objects frequently or may not use adequate pressure when manipulating objects, writes too lightly or with too much pressure.
  • Has trouble judging the force needed for gross motor activities – stomps or slaps feet on ground when walking, too much or not enough force during sports
  • Can use either hand to write, color, throw, bat, etc.
  • Poor right/left awareness, gets lost easily
  • May be classified as learning disabled or ADHD, frequently reverses letters