Propio WHAT? Understanding Our Proprioception System

Where am I in ‘space’? Am I laying down or standing up? What kind of surface am I walking on? For those of us with Vestibular Disorders, we’re likely to ask ourselves, “Am I really going to fall down?”.  Have you ever wondered how we know these things? We have receptors located deep within our bodies that unconsciously respond to the ‘impact’ (the weight or lack of weight) put upon the joints, muscles, tendons and ligaments. This feedback or sensory input travels back to our brain, where it is processed. Unconscionably!  Our bodies and brains are such unbelievably amazing creations, I am in awe. Without getting too medical (which I easily can), I want to try to explain this amazing system of Proprioception and why it’s so important for those of us with Vestibular Disorders.

The facility I worked a dozen years, was located next to a playground specially designed for children with disabilities. I loved taking my little clients there for therapy, as the equipment there made it easy. An example of a session might include,  walking or marching over while asking or telling them “Are we marching on a bumpy or smooth surface? How does it feel to your feet?” Some might say, ‘It tickles my feet!” while another say, “It hurts my feet!”, walk the perimeter of the Park (mostly a flat sidewalk, but also up and down ‘waves’ in it). Then, sitting atop a ‘rocket’ or ‘dinosaur’  rocking toy, swinging, climbing, or sliding…Whew!  All these activities activating their Proprioceptive and Vestibular Systems. I once did all these things, right beside them with ease (that’s why they liked me best! hahaha!). Now, just to sit in a swing and raise my feet off the ground makes my stomach turn over. Why? Because without the added input I get from my feet  on the ground, I get dizzy. My Proprioceptive System is off kilter! Not knowing where I am in space, for just that split second, can cause tremendous disorientation in me. Then, add to this, our visual issues (double vision, Nystagmus, etc.), and the VOR (Vestibular Ocular Reflex), and you have the perfect storm for taking a fall. I fell, again and again, breaking seven bones during the worst of my Labyrinthitis, yes I said seven! I broke my tailbone alone, three times! There definitely was a period of time I didn’t want to move! Once VRT began, of course, I was pushed (forced) to move around in space. I wanted to be bubble wrapped! My PT encouraged me to ‘stop watching the floor’ and ‘touching walls’. I did make progress, I really did, until Sarah’s accident (Into the Great Unknown… Part 1). I put others needs before mine (caregivers curse?) and again, I became ‘lost in space’, back to looking at the ground, back to wanting to touch a wall, yet once again…

When one of our ‘operating systems’ are under or over stimulated, another system kicks in to help compensate, or it shuts down altogether. The human body is such an amazing creation and most of us (me!) take advantage of our bodies at some point in our lives. Be it through lack of sleep,  getting proper nutrition, over indulgence in alcohol, smoking, etc., most of us have something we could do better for our amazing bodies. Receiving a ‘dual’ diagnosis within a year (Labyrinthitis and Fibromyalgia) was quite overwhelming. Both of them wear you out! Both of them have ‘dizziness’, ‘fatigue’, and ‘brain fog’ listed as  symptoms. So many overlapping symptoms, how do I know which is which? The biggest difference is the unrelenting pain that comes with Fibromyalgia. The thing they have in common? For both, I should be moving more than I do…

Having a Vestibular Disorder, though, makes me NOT want to move. I have found this to be a common ‘side effect’ in my research and it all says basically the same thing (that I don’t want to hear!), MOVEMENT helps or cures for some, if not most. So with the upcoming Balance Awareness Week quickly approaching (September 12-18), it only makes sense for me to try (AGAIN!) working on my own balance. So, I’m putting on ‘my big girl panties’ and have Mike drive to the Park next door to my old workplace and go play on the equipment! Maybe…if I’m lucky, there might be another child to play with…




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