Kinesthesia vs. Proprioception: What’s The Difference?
The words kinesthesia and proprioception are often used interchangeably. While they are similar, they aren’t the same thing and we can’t simply replace one with the other. So, what’s the difference exactly?
Kinesthesia refers to the body’s awareness that it’s moving. Our brains say, “hey, looks like our foot is taking a step forward!”
Our brains get this information primarily from the muscles. When we move our legs, the muscles that make the magic happen tell the brain that they’re hard at work. Secondarily, our brains can also get this info from the skin. “My leg hairs are cold! We must be moving!”
When kinesthesia is properly intact, we can not only determine that we’re moving, but also how. If I take a step forward, but my brain tells me I just took a step backwards, I just got a clue that my kinesthesia may be out of whack.
We usually only notice issues with kinesthesia if they impair our abilities to function. Should we struggle to walk, stand, or perform general movements, we then begin to wonder if a kinesthesia impairment is at play.
Don’t worry though! Kinesthesia is something that can be worked on and improved! After we chat about proprioception, we’ll dive into ways to work on kinesthetic skills.
There’s good reason why kinesthesia and proprioception are used interchangeably. Both are extremely similar, while also having an important difference.
As we discussed, kinesthesia is awareness of how the body is moving in space. If I took a step forward, my brain understands that my foot is moving forwards and not backwards. Proprioception on the other hand refers only to the awareness that my foot is now in front of me and not behind me. Unlike kinesthesia, proprioception doesn’t care how my foot got there; it just wants to tell my brain that my foot is now in front of me.
In short kinesthesia cares about movement, while proprioception does not.
What Do Issues with Kinesthesia and Proprioception Look Like?
People with sensory processing issues can often struggle with kinesthesia and proprioception. In fact, proprioception is commonly referred to as our sixth sense, as spatial awareness is so incredibly important for daily function.
By no means a comprehensive list, here are some examples of what issues with kinesthesia and proprioception can look like:
Help! This Sixth Sense is Out of Whack!
Well, let’s get moving! While it takes time to refine kinesthetic and proprioceptive skills, it’s not rocket science. Our brains instinctively want to understand the info that our bodies are sending them.
The more we move, the more info we send to the brain, the more our brains try to make sense of it.
If your child struggles with kinesthesia and proprioception, you’ve likely already been sent to an occupational therapist. If you haven’t, check out my post that explains what occupational therapy is and my other post about the important factors to consider when choosing an occupational therapist.
As proprioception is often considered to be a sixth sense, it is often evaluated when even a whisper of sensory processing issues is mentioned. If you’re concerned that either you or your child needs help with this sixth sense, chat with a professional.
How to Develop Kinesthesia and Proprioception Skills
As I mentioned, movement plays a big role in helping to refine the kinesthetic and proprioceptive systems. In occupational therapy sessions, you may notice your child swinging, bouncing, balancing, and jumping. Bigger movements give the brain bigger signals. Bigger signals give the brain more of a chance to understand what the body is doing and where it is in space.
Similar to what we talked about in my post about hyposensitivities to sensory input, the brain often needs bigger signals from the muscles than is typical.
In short, get familiar with heavy work and do it often!