Proprioception: How Providing Resistance Can Help Kids Move Forward

Heavy Work cover graphic

When we think of our senses, most of us think about the ones that we consciously experience. Those that we can see, hear, touch, taste and smell.  But our bodies also have some ‘hidden senses’; ones that we are not as aware of but help us each and every moment of the day. Proprioception is one of these hidden senses. 

What is Proprioception?

Proprioception is sensory input received from our muscles and joints. It tells our brain where our arms, legs, and body are, adjusts the speed and amount of force in our movements, increases or decreases our muscle tone for different positions and actions, and helps to maintain our balance. Proprioception provides vital information that gives us the foundations for movement and participation in everyday activities. 

As an example, you can walk from one room to another without watching your legs and feet or falling over because of proprioception. You pick up an egg, without breaking it, and then crack it into a pan because of proprioception.  

Proprioception provides a “grounding” effect for our bodies that can be used to calm and organize the body. Whether we realize it or not, most of us automatically use proprioceptive input to help us to relax or soothe ourselves when we feel dysregulated.  Have you ever gone for a run to help reduce your stress or tension?  Have you ever wrapped yourself in a blanket or asked for a hug when you were upset?  These are examples that show the power of proprioception. 

Heavy Work

Heavy work is pushing or pulling resistance activities that activate the proprioceptors in the muscle and joints to help calm and organize the body.  It is an effective tool that is often prescribed by occupational therapists who work with children that have sensory processing disorders.  These activities can help children to regulate their sensory systems.

Heavy work can be effective for children who experience sensory overload or constantly seek out sensory input. Almost all children with sensory issues such as those with autism or ADHD can benefit from heavy work activities. 

Heavy work can be integrated into daily routines so that a child has calming and organizing input throughout the day.  Below are some daily activities that are resistive in nature, providing proprioceptive input. Parents and teachers can sprinkle these activities throughout the day to help a child regulate better.

Play Activities:

  • Ride a bike or manual scooter
  • Roller blade
  • Jump rope or jump on a trampoline
  • Climb and swing playground equipment like the monkey bars
  • Walking like an animals (crawling, hopping, etc)
  • Swim
  • Play sports
  • Hopscotch
  • Climb a climbing wall
  • Play Twister
  • Squish clay or play dough
  • Dance to music
  • Hopper balls
  • Hold/carry a weighted stuffed animal

Household or School Activities:

  • Carry weighted objects like a laundry basket or groceries
  • Take out the trash
  • Vacuum, mop, or sweep
  • Wipe down tables, desks, or windows
  • Wipe off a whiteboard or chalkboard
  • Stir or knead dough when cooking
  • Move or stack chairs/furniture
  • Rearrange books on a bookshelf
  • Shovel snow or rake leaves
  • Push a cart or pull a wagon
  • Sharpen a pencil with manual sharpener
  • Hold a door open
  • Chew gum, dried fruit, or chewy candy.
  • Drink think liquids like smoothies, applesauce, yogurt, or pudding with a straw

Exercise Activities:

  • Jumping jacks
  • Star Jumps
  • Yoga
  • Jog
  • Push Ups (chair, wall, or floor)
  • Use light weight theraband
  • Pull up bar

If you have a child or student who demonstrates sensory processing difficulties such as being overly responsive to touch or sounds or always moving around or touching things, they may benefit from occupational therapy services.  An occupational therapist can evaluate the child and work with the family and teachers to get an understanding of the child’s sensory processing and then recommend appropriate activities that address the child’s needs. Contact us for more information.

Learn more about proprioception for babies here.

Contact us to learn more or browse our roster of therapists to book directly!

About Enablr Therapy
Enablr Therapy offers speech, occupational, and physical therapy to people of all ages and abilities through our school-based therapy services as well as cash-based services for individual clients. Individual clients can be seen through convenient online sessions in many states across the country.