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The Sixth Sense

Where most of us learned about the five senses in school, I learned about the six. And I’m not talking about “extra-sensory perception” (ESP). I’m talking about a sixth sense that we all have but seldom, if ever, think about. A sense that we probably use more than any other one sense.

The neglected sense.

If you walk, especially in the dark, you need this sense. Touch your nose or scratch an itch and you use this sense. Catch a ball, swing a stick, dance with your partner and … well … hell, you could barely eat a sandwich if didn’t have this sense.

I’m talking about the sense of proprioception.

Proprioception is the sense of knowing where your body is in space. It’s a feeling. It’s the “sensitivity mechanism” in your nervous system that uses “specialized sensory receptors in the joints, muscles, and connective tissues” (and skin) to automatically do such things as keep your balance, throw, catch, grab, scratch, reach, and a myriad other things.

Without proprioceptive awareness, walking wouldn’t be automatic; close your eyes and you’d fall down.

One of the goals of my physical therapy is to regain the proprioceptive sense in my right ankle. Eight weeks in a cast has taken its toll in that area.

A few simple tests were all my therapist needed to confirm his suspicions. “Jim,” he said. “Point your toes to the ceiling and try to stand on your heels.”

I could barely do it. He made a mark on the paper on his clipboard.

“Right. Now do the same thing with your eyes closed.”

Complete and absolute failure. It was barely an effort. More notes.

“Uh-hu. Okay now Jim, stand on your left leg (that’s the leg that didn’t break). Good, good, good. Now stand on your right leg. Good, now bend your knee.”

I fell over. He made another notation.

“Stand on your left leg and close your eyes. Great! Now stand on your right leg again and close your eyes.”

I immediately lost my balance again. More writing.

Proprioception is closely allied with balance. It is especially so when you have no visual cues to assist you and you have to rely solely those “special sensory receptors” inside your body to tell your muscles and joints what to do to keep you upright.

“We’re going to work mostly on getting your strength and proprioception back. We have a lot of tricks and games we’ll play to get you back where you were. We might even have you playing softball again before the season’s over.”

Fall softball leagues start later this month.

Comments

ruminator said:

I'm glad to hear that the old physique progresses. That's good news. Just be careful and don't hurt yourself again, OK?

Posted on Aug 14, 2005 05:05 AM

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