Proprioception: The 6th Sense

posted on 6/12/2017 in Blog

“Ninety percent of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by the movement of the spine.”

 - Dr. Roger Sperry, 1981 Nobel Prize winner for brain research


When referring to the 6th sense, I am not talking about the supernatural ability of Cole Sear (Haley Joel Osment) to see dead people like Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis) as portrayed in the 1999 Hollywood thriller.  I am talking about the brain’s ability to perceive information from external stimuli.  You are probably familiar with the first 5 senses - taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound.  The brain receives these sensations, interprets them, and determines an appropriate response to the sensations.  What you may not know is that the brain receives and interprets information from and responds to a 6th sensation in the body. This sensation is called proprioception, which is the inherent ability of the brain to know where every single body part is at all times.  If you put your hand behind your back, your brain knows exactly where the hand is in relation to the rest of the body.  If you are stepping off the curb of a sidewalk onto the street, your brain knows exactly where the foot is in relation to the ground, which will prevent you from rolling your ankle. 

In the book Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy -Until You’re 80 and Beyond (Crowley & Lodge, 2007), authors Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge, M.D., describe proprioception in a bit more detail.  They state “Your body is aware of exactly where each limb is in space every second because each muscle, tendon, ligament, and joint sends thousands of nerve fibers back to the brain through the spinal cord. Those fibers signal every nuance gradation of contraction, strength, muscular tone, orientation, position and movement at every moment of the day...Your brain keeps careful track of the location of every muscle and joint in your body every second, all day, every day, waiting for you to need the information."  The eloquent description of proprioception includes joints, tendons, and ligaments.  Non-coincidentally, each segment in the vertebral column (spinal column) contains two vertebrae (spinal bones), tendons, ligaments, a vertebral disc separating the bones, which together all form a joint complex.  The movement of a joint complex throughout the spine is monitored and interpreted by the brain. This information is sent from receptors on each joint complex to thousands of nerves that send the messages to the brain. 

Does that mean chiropractic care directly relates to the 6th sense and your overall health?

Absolutely!  Here is how it works:  The proprioceptive nerve pathway transmits messages that tell the brain the exact position and movement of a joint in the body (Haavik, 2016).  If a joint in the spine is locked down or restricted (also known as a chiropractic subluxation), there are abnormal messages being transmitted from that subluxated joint to the brain.  This pathway connects directly with your autonomic nervous system (ANS).  The ANS is responsible for controlling all of the automatic functions in your body that you do not have to think about (heart rate, metabolism, hormone regulation, immune response, digestion, blood pressure, blood vessel constriction or relaxation, etc.).  If your ANS is not getting proper signals from proprioceptors, it becomes unbalanced and the outgoing messages to your organs and systems become disrupted and dysfunctional.  A chronically unbalanced autonomic nervous system causes disease and deterioration. 

How does chiropractic help improve proprioception and function throughout the body?  Chiropractors are uniquely trained to find the joints in your spine that are not moving properly. 

The areas that are not moving properly (chiropractic subluxations) are addressed with the chiropractic adjustment, which uses gentle and specific forces to create motion in joint complexes.  As the joint motion increases so too does the stimulation and appropriate proprioception to the brain.  The appropriate signaling causes the autonomic nervous system and the brain to become balanced and actually enhances the output to cells, tissues, organs, and systems.  When the brain and nervous system are balanced, the functions in the body always follow and a better quality of life ensues!  For this reason, chiropractors are doing far more than adjusting a bone (or joint complex), we are actually adjusting the brain (via the 6th sense)!


Crowley, C., & Lodge, H. S. (2007). Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit and Sexy - Until You're 80 and Beyond. New York, NY: Workman Publishing Company, Inc.

Haavik, D. H. (2016). The Reality Check. Auckland, NZ: Haavik Research.

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