Assessing kinesthetic proprioceptive function of the upper limb: A novel dynamic movement reproduction task using a robotic arm

K. Vandael, T.R. Stanton, A. Meulders*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Background: Proprioception refers to the perception of motion and position of the body or body segments in space. A wide range of proprioceptive tests exists, although tests dynamically evaluating sensorimotor integration during upper limb movement are scarce. We introduce a novel task to evaluate kinesthetic proprioceptive function during complex upper limb movements using a robotic device. We aimed to evaluate the test-retest reliability of this newly developed Dynamic Movement Reproduction (DMR) task. Furthermore, we assessed reliability of the commonly used Joint Reposition (JR) task of the elbow, evaluated the association between both tasks, and explored the influence of visual information (viewing arm movement or not) on performance during both tasks.

Methods: During the DMR task, participants actively reproduced movement patterns while holding a handle attached to the robotic arm, with the device encoding actual position throughout movement. In the JR task, participants actively reproduced forearm positions; with the final arm position evaluated using an angle measurement tool. The difference between target movement pattern/position and reproduced movement pattern/position served as measures of accuracy. In study 1 (N = 23), pain-free participants performed both tasks at two test sessions, 24-h apart, both with and without visual information available (i.e., vision occluded using a blindfold). In study 2 (N = 64), an independent sample of pain-free participants performed the same tasks in a single session to replicate findings regarding the association between both tasks and the influence of visual information.

Results: The DMR task accuracy showed good-to-excellent test-retest reliability, while JR task reliability was poor: measurements did not remain sufficiently stable over testing days. The DMR and JR tasks were only weakly associated. Adding visual information (i.e., watching arm movement) had different performance effects on the tasks: it increased JR accuracy but decreased DMR accuracy, though only when the DMR task started with visual information available (i.e., an order effect).

Discussion: The DMR task's highly standardized protocol (i.e., largely automated), precise measurement and involvement of the entire upper limb kinetic chain (i.e., shoulder, elbow and wrist joints) make it a promising tool. Moreover, the poor association between the JR and DMR tasks indicates that they likely capture unique aspects of proprioceptive function. While the former mainly captures position sense, the latter appears to capture sensorimotor integration processes underlying kinesthesia, largely independent of position sense. Finally, our results show that the integration of visual and proprioceptive information is not straightforward: additional visual information of arm movement does not necessarily make active movement reproduction more accurate, on the contrary, when movement is complex, vision appears to make it worse.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere11301
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - 3 May 2021


  • Proprioception
  • Upper limb
  • Robotic device
  • Test-retest reliability

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