Proprioception: Posture and Comfort
If you have been in our clinics, you might have noticed us telling our patients to stand straighter for us to check their posture, and them retorting back, “But I am standing straight!”. And the look the utter disbelief when we show a photo we snapped of them and the accompanying remark, “But it felt like I was standing straight.” That’s proprioception gone wrong. So what is the sense we call ‘proprioception’? Why does it lure us astray?
Proprioception is essentially an awareness where your body parts are located in space relatively to each other. For example, even if with your eyes closed, you are able to to touch the tips of your index fingers together. You are able to do this because you have a sense of your fingers are relatively to each other. Even if you missed the first time, you are able to quickly correct to the ‘near’ miss.
So how does the body sense where it is in space relatively to each other? The most well known component is the inner ear that gives us our sense of balance. But how do we know where are index fingers are relatively to each other?
We have nerve receptors embedded in our muscles and ligaments. These proprioceptors sends signals to our brain about the various states each of our muscles and ligaments are in – how taut? how slack? Our brain takes in all this information and processes them. It is processing that fools us overtime.
If overtime, we believe our current posture is the correct upright posture the brain will recognise the current set of ‘information’ received from the proprioceptors as to mean ‘a good upright position’. This doesn’t have to be true.
It is just what we believe to be true. There is no absolute value from the proprioceptors that tells the brain where exactly but rather the pattern of signals it receives that it interprets as a particular positions in space relatively to another part of the body.
And when someone else corrects your posture and tell you that this is the ‘correct upright’ posture, your brain tells you different because it doesn’t feel upright either your lean too far forward or your head is pulled back too far. It just feels odd.
Re-learning And Re-intrepreting The Senses
Thankfully, we don’t have to live the odd sense of something not being right. We can re-train our brain to learn, “now, this is the correct posture” This like a habit, takes practice and persistence. It won’t happen overnight. Overtime we can teach our brain to recognise a new set of patterns as the correct posture.
Also remember that your body adapts to a particular position to overtime. So some of your ligaments, joints and muscles might be too tight, slack, stiff, loose or tense. This will cause discomfort in the new ‘correct’ position. A classic example is women who wear high heels. Their ankle tendons have shortened and thicken to the point that it is unbearable for them to wear flat shoes anymore. Even when un-shod, you are likely to see them tip-toeing around as though they are wearing heels.
The therapist can address these issues with your joint, tendons and muscles with treatment and training. Simply standing upright in the correct posture will not immediately address these issues.
So remember just because a particular posture or gait feels comfortable, it may not be the right one. Get someone experienced and trained to observe you as a independent party . Don’t trust those proprioceptors (at least not all the time). The same goes when choosing an ergonomic appliance. Be mindful that while it feels comfortable, it might be to right for you. Don’t be lured in.
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