An introduction to interoception


My aim here is to introduce you to a paper on interoception, written by Robert Schleip in 2014, to give you a broad summary of interoception, and how the therapist will benefit the client from understanding this sense.

Before we look at the research, we need a definition of interoception: “Interoception refers to the representation of the internal world, and includes the processes by which an organism senses, interprets, integrates and regulates signals from within itself.” [1]

In 2014, Robert Schleip documented a recent discovery in his article Interoception: Some Suggestions for Manual and Movement Therapies[2]

“The discovery of interoceptive receptors in human skin. Beside the well-known cutaneous receptors for haptic perception, human skin contains interoceptive C-fibre endings which trigger a general sense of well-being. The connections of these slowly conducting receptors do not follow the usual pathway of the pyramidal tract towards the proprioceptive areas in the brain. They rather project to the insular cortex, a key player in the regulation of interoception. This was recently discovered through experiments with patients lacking myelinated afferents. Whenever their skin was gently stroked, they responded with an increased sense of general wellbeing, although they were unable to detect the direction of stroking. Subsequent brain imaging studies revealed that the touch activated their insular cortex, while no activation was seen in proprioceptive brain areas. It is concluded that human skin contains special touch receptors, with a slow conduction velocity, which are part of a neurobiological system for social touch.”

Schleip goes on to discuss the difference between proprioception and interoception, and how specific therapeutic approaches might be appropriate for the relative physical/emotional states of the client. “It would be really useful for the therapist to pay attention to the autonomic responses at each moment and to the limbic-emotional (or insular) response of the client, while monitoring the touch direction (plus its speed and magnitude) in such a manner that a profound change in local tissue hydration as well as other autonomic effects can be achieved. It would also be worthwhile to encourage a perceptual refinement and some verbal feedback from the client regarding his/her interoceptive perceptions. While proprioceptive sensations may be in the foreground during the application of strokes, those finer interoceptive sensations are usually easier to perceive in periods of at least several seconds of rest between different manipulative strokes.” He continues in more detail, outlining some suggestions for the aware therapist.

Schleip later states “Myofascial as well as visceral therapists should also not be surprised when encountering psychoemotional responses or emotional release which may include changes in internal body perception, in self-awareness or affective emotions. These may be triggered by their stimulation of interoceptive free nerve endings in the skin, in visceral connective tissues as well as in muscular tissues”. This brings to mind Carol M. Davis’ comment in one of her webinars for The Fascia Hub recently, where a patient said, after a successful Myofascial Release session: “I had hoped that you would make my knee feel better but I never expected that you would help me feel more at one with my self.”

Do follow the reference link and read the full paper, and consider studying this fascinating topic further; many other articles and research papers can be found online.

N.B. A fuller version of this article is in the Members’ Area, titled ‘Interoception – a summary of two papers’. To find out more about membership, please click here.

1 The Emerging Science of Interoception: Sensing, Integrating, Interpreting, and Regulating Signals within the Self. Wen G.Chen, Dana Schloesser, Angela M. Arensdorf, Janine M. Simmons , Changhai  Cui, Rita Valentino, James W. Gnadt, Lisbeth Nielsen, Coryse St.Hillaire-Clarke, Victoria Spruance, Todd S.Horowitz, Yolanda F.Vallejo, Helene M.Langevin.   ScienceDirect, Trends in Neurosciences, Volume 44, Issue 1, January 2021, Pages 3-16. [Accessed 28.6.22]

2 Interoception. Some Suggestions for Manual and Movement Therapies. Schleip, R. Terra Rosa E-Magazine, No. 15, December 2014.;  [Accessed 28.6.22]

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Jan Trewartha

Jan is the founder and director of the British Fascia Symposium and The Fascia Hub. She has been in healthcare since 1979, originally training as a State Registered Nurse in the Queen Alexandra Royal Army Nursing Corps (QARANC), working with patients on the wards and in the operating theatre; a superb if non-deliberate foundation for her future career as a specialist in scars and adhesions.

In 1988 she was taught by a blind massage therapist to really ‘feel’ the body, leading to a lifetime passion for body work. Jan was a massage volunteer at the Auckland Commonwealth Games where she learned from professionals from all modalities. Her work now is the culmination of many years of training and experience in different disciplines. Through her school, Body in Harmony Training, Jan runs a variety of light touch therapy courses, including Sharon Wheeler’s ScarWork, for which she was the first accredited tutor in the UK.

To learn more about Jan please visit her website:

Jan is also the co-editor and lead author of the book Scars, Adhesions and the Biotensegral Body, published by Handspring Publishing in May 2020.

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