Yes, this is a word that many of us have never heard of. However, it is a very important part of our musculoskeletal systems and is often times the primary cause of musculo-skeletal injuries.

All of the moveable joints in the body are held together with muscles, ligaments and tendons. These tissues are responsible for movement, stabilization and adaptation to the movements we make and undergo. All of the joints have little nerve endings in the tissues around them. These nerve endings are called proprioceptors (mechanoreceptors). As the name implies, they are responsible for sensing the mechanical changes (movement) in the tissues around a joint.

If you closed your eyes and then tried to touch your nose with your finger, it is the proprioceptors (mechanoreceptors) in the tissues around your elbow, wrist, shoulder and finger that allow you to sense where your finger is at when your eyes are closed.

The only time these nerves fire off is when the tissues around the joints are mechanically stimulated, stretched, compressed or moved. The nerves send signals into your spinal cord and back out to the tissues so they can have awareness in space and adapt to the mechanical stress successfully while we move.

The spine is the most heavily innervated structure in the body with these proprioceptors. They innervate the tissues around the joints and are very important in protecting the tissues and preventing injuries.

When a spinal joint is moved, it sends these signals into the spinal cord and immediately back out to the tiny muscles that adapt to movement (multifidis/interspinalis muscles) to "tweak" and change their position and motion to avoid a strain/sprain injury.

Once one of these tissues gets injured, they will almost always heal with some amount of fibrotic and scar tissue. Unfortunately, once healed and the acute pain subsides, often this fibrotic tissue will reduce or limit the ability of these tissues to move. This will cause the proprioceptors to reduce firing and inhibit mechanical adaptation to movement and awareness in space. This will lead to a progressive decrease in your ability to sense mechanical changes around the spinal joints and in turn cause more frequent episodes of strain/sprain injuries to the tissues around the spine.

Fortunately, this is one of the primary purposes of Chiropractic Care. By identifying and isolating the tissues that have reduced mobility and mechanically stretching the fibrotic and scar tissue out, we can stimulate the rehabilitation of these proprioceptors.

A simple way to measure how well your spinal function and proprioceptive function is would be to stand on one foot and close your eyes. The longer you can remain balanced, the better your proprioception is.

Ultimately, reduced proprioceptive coordination over time will lead to an increase in the frequency of back pain and in the incidents of falling as we age. Falling as we age is the leading cause of hip fractures as well as nursing home admissions later in life.

How healthy is your propriocetion?

James D. McLelland D.C.

Richmond Chiropractic Centers of Short Pump

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