Thinking Outside the Skeleton: Scoliosis May be Linked to Problems with Our "Sixth Sense"
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Thinking Outside the Skeleton: Scoliosis May be Linked to Problems with Our "Sixth Sense"

Professor Elazar Zelzer — Weizmann Institute
Dec 4, 2017

Proprioception is sometimes called the sixth sense. Unlike our other five senses, proprioception perceives not the external world, but rather the internal one: sensing our own bodies and the shifting placement of our limbs.

(Israel) — How do bones know when they have reached their "destination" – that is, how do they decide they are at the right length and the right strength? Do they have a written map or internal GPS navigation system, or do they have to ask the "locals" for directions? Two new studies at the Weizmann Institute of Science suggest that for the bones, nearby muscles play an unsuspected role in bone healing, as well as in keeping the skeleton healthy and well aligned, on track to the proper "address." (Photo Credit: Weizmann Wonder Wander)'

According to the studies, these directions come from a sensory system based in the muscles. To understand this system, you can close your eyes and touch a finger to your nose. The sense that allows you to do this – that lets you know, without looking, what your arms and legs are doing – is called proprioception (from the Latin, proprius, "belonging to me"). Proprioception is sometimes called the sixth sense. Unlike our other five senses, proprioception perceives not the external world, but rather the internal one: sensing our own bodies and the shifting placement of our limbs. Two "mechanical" sensors within the muscles are crucial to this sense: These are the "muscle spindles" found in the muscle fibers, which respond to changes in length; and the "Golgi tendon organs" found where the muscles connect to the tendons, which gauge the amount of contraction in the muscle. Professor Elazar Zelzer's research in the Weizmann Institute of Science's Molecular Genetics Department suggests that these sensors – for extension and contraction – actually direct the development of the skeletal system.

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