This study mapped the development of proprioception in healthy, typically developing children by objectively measuring forearm position sense acuity. We assessed position sense acuity in a cross-sectional sample of 308 children (5-17 years old; M/F = 127/181) and a reference group of 26 healthy adults (18-25 years old; M/F = 12/14) using a body-scalable bimanual manipulandum that allowed forearm flexion/extension in the horizontal plane. The non-dominant forearm was passively displaced to one of three target positions. Then participants actively matched the target limb position with their dominant forearm. Each of three positions was matched five times. Position error (PE), calculated as the mean difference between the angular positions of the matching and reference arms, measured position sense bias or systematic error. The respective standard deviation of the differences between the match and reference arm angular positions (SDPdiff) indicated position sense precision or random error. The main results are as follows: First, systematic error, measured by PE, did not change significantly from early childhood to late adolescence (Median PE at 90° target: −2.85° in early childhood; −2.28° in adolescence; and 1.30° in adults). Second, response variability as measured by SDPdiff significantly decreased with age (Median SDPdiff at 90° target: 9.66° in early childhood; 5.30° in late adolescence; and 3.97° in adults). The data of this large cross-sectional sample of children document that proprioceptive development in typically developing children is characterized as an age-related improvement in precision, not as a development or change in bias. In other words, it is the reliability of the perceptual response that improves between early childhood and adulthood. This study provides normative data against which position sense acuity in pediatric patient populations can be compared. The underlying neurophysiological processes that could explain the observed proprioceptive development include changes in the tuning of muscle spindles at the spinal level, the maturation of supraspinal somatosensory pathways and the development of interhemispheric callosal connections responsible for the transfer of somatosensory information.
- Position sense