Neurosensory. It is not a word commonly heard and even then, it is probably not given much thought to. Before we get into the importance of it, a short recap on our body’s nervous system (think of our systems as a factory!) – the nervous system is one of 11 organ systems in our body and it acts as our body’s command center, controlling movements, thoughts, memory, learning and automatic responses to the world around us etc. The nervous system has two subdivisions: the central nervous system and the peripheral nervous system. The brain and spinal cord make up the central nervous system and these are what most people pay attention to, undoubtedly as they are so vitally important. However, the peripheral nervous system is just as important as they are the ‘messengers’ that transmits information to and from the rest of our body.

The peripheral nervous system is further subdivided into an afferent division and an efferent division. The afferent division, also known as the sensory division, transmits impulses from peripheral organs to the central nervous system and the efferent (or motor) division transmits impulses from the central nervous system out to the other organs to cause and effect or action. Finally, we’ve gotten to where neurosensory comes in. Neurosensory basically is anything relating to our afferent nerves, pertaining to the sensory activity and transmission back to our central nervous system for processing.

Why is it so important? For one, it is how we understand, react to, and connect with our external environment. Think our 5 senses! Recently, a review by Gendron et al. (2015) highlighted the emerging discoveries suggesting that our sensory perception has a greater impact on health and longevity than what was previously appreciated, on top of the traditional importance of the sensory system in its ability to perceive external information about the world. Focusing on our tactile function, it is then counterproductive to know that ageing is accompanied by a steady decline in touch sensitivity and acuity. With age, skin loses elasticity and firmness while the many nerve receptor endings in our skin (17,000 in each palm and 7,000 in each foot!) undergoes form and structural changes and a decline in number (McIntyre et al., 2021). It is something that we all inevitably will go through, and it probably isn’t nice to know that our nerves deteriorate at twice the speed when we hit 40 years of age!

A compromised tactile and overall sensory function as we age makes us a little less aware of our surroundings and while this might not seem that big of a deal, it is actually translated to more critical issues that could affect your lifestyle and independent living. A big one we advocate greatly here at BodyTree is your risk of falling. Falling becomes an even greater worry and problem in the elderly when the consequences could lead to the loss of independent living. Besides keeping an active lifestyle that could prevent muscle weakness, many forget the importance of balance. Let’s think about balance as a feedback loop. The nerve endings in our feet provide our central nervous system with feedback regarding any alterations to our upright body position, such as information about where our foot pressure is and so on. Our central nervous system will then send out signals to our body to react accordingly to any external perturbations or alterations, and this is what keeps us standing upright. All this happens so quickly most of us don’t even give a second thought to how many messengers and signals are involved in our daily lives.

To preserve our balance for example, we have to preserve our sensory function. Many turn to sensory retraining only later in life if they encounter neurosensory issues after medical conditions like stroke or Parkinson’s Disease. Sensory training however can and should be done even in healthy individuals, especially as we age. This comes in the form of stimulating our senses, such as touching or standing on textured materials. Most of us only have our feet exposed to socks, shoes, or the floor and this does not give much opportunity for our nerve endings to be stimulated, ultimately contributing to an even faster decline as we age.

Our sensory system is commonly overlooked and hopefully this lengthy (and a bit too science-y) blog will help encourage you to get out and stimulate your senses, exposing your hands and feet to more textures! Your body will only thank you and continue to function well in protecting you.

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