What is Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)

The use of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation has been applied to several areas of medical and rehabilitative treatment, from sports medicine to physical therapy. In existence since at least the 1940s, this form of neuromuscular treatment was initially developed for paralysis patients, but it has since been used for numerous purposes with great success.

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation is a neuromuscular treatment that uses repetitive stretches as an overall approach. During PNF treatment, one muscle is contracted while another is relaxed at the same time. There are several techniques performed by practitioners of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation to increase range of motion, improve stretch, increase strength and develop healthy muscle tissue.

Neuromuscular treatment in pairs
One of the most unique aspects of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation is the fact that it must be done with at least two people. The subject's limbs and muscles are manipulated by the practitioner, and it is impossible to complete most of the stretches by oneself. Furthermore, doing these exercises in pairs ensures that proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation does not do any damage to the muscles, such as that caused by overstretching.

In many circles, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation is known simply as assisted stretching, particularly as it pertains to sports medicine. An injured or overworked athlete is put through a neuromuscular therapy routine by a trainer in order to facilitate healing and bring muscles back to condition.

Performing proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation in pairs can also eliminate the possibility of overstretching, which is a common risk when individuals attempt to perform the stretches alone or with a machine. Without knowing whether a stretch has gone too far, muscles and ligaments can easily be damaged or torn.

Methods of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation
Since its inception, proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation has been studied by a wide range of therapists, physicians and athletic trainers; new methods are developed on a regular basis. What started out as two or three patterns used for neuromuscular therapy has turned into a group of at least 12 available patterns.

Reflexes and resistance are the foundation of this type of neuromuscular therapy. They are used to stretch and anticipate the movement of various muscle groups in the body. Resistance creates tension in the muscles, while reflexes are the body's natural responses to certain stimuli.

Irradiation is the concept of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation that explains why muscles behave in a specific pattern as it relates to the central nervous system. Essentially, manipulating one muscle or muscle group results in a pattern of muscular behavior that erupts in either a spiral or diagonal pattern. Induction, the fourth mechanism of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, refers to the activation and contraction of muscles in the body.

Understanding resistance
Resistance is one of the primary ways in which proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation differs from other forms of exercise and stretching. Rather than asking the subject to consistently work with his trainer, he instead will resist some movements to increase muscle tension and response.

For example, according to the athletic study, a trainer might initiate a pattern of motion with his subject, and when the subject begins to relax and move with the motion, he will be asked to resist. At first, resistance in proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation might be slight to avoid overstimulation, but increases as the subject becomes comfortable with neuromuscular therapy.

The trainer can also provide resistance in proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. This technique is used in most paired assisted stretching exercise. It allows the trainer to stretch a muscle to a specific point with regard to the subject's threshold. This is why it is important for any practitioner to understand his patient as well as the desired effects of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation.

Reaping the benefits
The benefits of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation are widespread and similar to the benefits of other types of neuromuscular therapy. Many therapists, however, use only PNF in their practices because it has been so successful since its introduction.

Range of motion is arguably the most substantial benefit of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. Patients who use this type of therapy experience greater flexibility not only in their limbs and joints but throughout their bodies. Even though only a leg is manipulated in proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, for example, positive effects might present in the arms and trunk as well.

Also, because proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation is often used continuously over a 30- to 60-minute period, the body experiences a constant and contiguous bout of motion. With no resting or waiting periods, the body adjusts more quickly to this type of neuromuscular therapy, and the benefits will therefore last longer.

If you are interested in proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, you might be able to find a practitioner near you. Physical therapy clinics, gyms and health centers are the most likely places, and you can benefit from assisted stretching regardless of your condition. 

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