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The Monday Shakeout: What Do We Mean When We Talk About Proprioception?
By DOR Editorial Team

In this edition of the Monday Shakeout, we're doing a bit of a round-up of sorts on a topic we've talked a lot about: proprioception. Pulling together some selected pieces our team has wrote about proprioception, we hope this piece helps readers get a better understanding of why it can be important to runners when looking for a shoe.

What Do We Mean When We Talk about Proprioception? 
By Andrea Myers

Proprioception was originally defined by neurophysiologist Charles Sherrington as “
the perception of joint and body movement as well as position of the body, or body segments, in space.”. Put more simply, proprioception is the body's joint position sense. A person with normal proprioception does not need to look at their hand to know that their fingers are bent; the sensory receptors in our muscles, tendons, and joints give the brain this information without any effort on our part. When running, we subconsciously rely on our lower extremity proprioceptors to relay information about any irregularity in the surface we are running on. Proprioceptive input is even more important when trail running due to the constant changes in surface as we run over rocks, roots, loose dirt, and other uneven terrain.

The term proprioceptor refers to any of the sensory receptors that communicate joint or muscle position information. These receptors are called mechanoreceptors and are found in muscle, tendons, and in joints themselves. The receptors found in muscle tissue are called muscle spindles, which are bundles of muscle fibers surrounded by connective tissue. The muscle spindle provides the spinal cord and brain information about muscle length. Muscle spindle density varies throughout the body, and is greatest in muscles that produce precise movements (such as the intrinsic muscles of the hand).

The proprioceptors found in tendons are called Golgi tendon organs. They are located at the interface between muscle and tendon and relay information regarding changes in muscle tension to the spinal cord and brain. When a muscle is in a relaxed, shortened state, the Golgi tendon organ is silent. As tension increases in the muscle, the Golgi tendon organs increase their firing rate.

The proprioceptors found in joints are located in the connective tissue that surrounds the joint called the joint capsule, as well as in the ligaments that stabilize the joint. These receptors provide information about motion at the extremes of joint range of motion - for example, when the knee joint is fully bent or fully straight.

Proprioception: A Balancing Act
By David Salas

All of our joints have these special nerve endings that provide feedback for our brain to help with decision making and adjusting. One of the things our proprioceptors feed off of most is contact and touch. When we are firmly grounded we can feel our surroundings and make accurate decisions easier. When we add a foam underneath us (in some cases a balance pad) this makes us work much harder at the foot/ankle, knee, and hip. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, as highly cushioned foams can actually help some with force attenuation.

It is important to look into what helps with improving connectivity of the joint, surface, and brain connection. In a shoe this means making that initial contact those early stance phases as smooth as possible so we can make accurate decisions as we transfer into the forefoot. Some things that anecdotally can help with this include posterior lateral heel bevels, sidewalls, and sole flaring. Even if our foot does what it wants in a shoe, having something physical it touches can still help with a sense of guidance and change the interaction moving into the forefoot.

Proprioception and Stability
By Matt Klein

I have discussed this previously on this blog that many shoes labeled as stability or put in that category are not as stable as they claim. The labels may need to be done away with as there are multiple ways besides a post to do stability. These all include wider soles, heel counters, posting (as mentioned), sole wedges, sole density changes (also technically posting), upper fits, rocker soles, etc. These and more contribute to whether the shoe is stable or not. In the case of the Hoka Arahi for example, though it is labeled as a stability shoe and has different density midsole materials (aka posting) that should provide stability, the softer sole sabotages that. A softer sole is inherently more unstable. Like running on pillows vs cement. Adding firmer density material will create a degree of stability, but not to the degree Hoka claims. This shoe is a mild stability shoe at most thanks to the softer sole. It is helped somewhat by the wide last but the softness detracts from that stability.

Stability shoes should generally be firmer. Not bone crushing, but the increased firmness not only provides a more stable platform, but can provide increased proprioceptive feedback that may help the runner realize where their bodies are. Proprioception is an individual's sense of their body and body parts within space. This is very important to runners to know how hard they are landing, where they are landing, if they need to modify their shock absorbing capabilities based on the surface, whether they need to modify their steps due to unstable terrain and more. It is something I commonly see lacking in those with repeated injuries because there may be a delay in their detection of how much force is going through their bodies (interestingly I also see this commonly in those with shoulder, low back and neck issues).

Decreased proprioception may lead to delayed muscle firing and prep for landing during the initial contact phase of running. Your shock absorbers, ie the quads, glutes and depending on your foot strike the anterior lower leg muscles or calves need to be on before you land to prepare to absorb landing forces.

Decreased proprioception means the individual may misjudge when that landing is about to happen. So instead of your muscles being ready to absorb those impact forces, the delay means you must now relay on passive structures (tendons, ligaments, joints, etc) to deal with those forces. You can image over time how that could lead to an injurious situation. Having a shoe be a little more firm does mean a little more impact, but the interesting thing is that tends to improve muscle loading. Our theories are that the increased firmness and initial shock activates more joint receptors, which in turn may help proprioception, initiate protective response and increase muscle firing. If nothing else, the firmness also provides a better contrast between the firmer posting and the traditional foam. Thus you will be able to feel the stability more than an overly soft shoe.


Han, J., Waddington, G., Adams, R., Anson, J., & Liu, Y. (2016). Assessing proprioception: A critical review of methods. Journal of sport and health science, 5(1), 80–90.

Tuthill, J and Azim, E. (2018). Proprioception. Current Biology, 28(5), 194-203.


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Ultraspire Fitted Race Belt: The best way to carry your phone and goods on the run. No bounce and various sizes for waist. (Also recommend the Naked belt)
Saysky Running Gear: We were really taken aback by this Scandinavian company's ultra-thin, durable performance clothing
Skratch Recovery, Coffee Flavor: Mental and physical boost post run. Coffee flavor is excellent and goes great straight into a fresh brewed cup
goodr Sunglases: Run in style with goodr's super fun sunglasses.
Feetures Socks: Massively grippy socks that will make you feel more one with the shoe
Amphipod Hydraform Handheld Water Bottle: Perfect for long runs when you need hydration in the summer
Trigger Point Foam Roller: Help get those knots out post-run and feel better for tomorrow
Theragun Massager: This small version is great on the go for working tired legs
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