Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
With Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation, injured athletes can achieve better flexibility leading to reduced fatigue, better biomechanics and muscular strength, prevent the overuse of injuries, and decreased the chances of having another injury from sports accidents.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is an advanced form of flexibility training that involves both active stretching and isometric contraction of the muscle group being targeted. PNF exercises are based on the stretch reflex which is caused by stimulation of the golgi tendon and muscle spindles. This stimulation results in impulses being sent to the brain, which leads to the contraction and relaxation of muscles. When a body part is injured, there is a delay in the stimulation of the muscle spindles and golgi tendons resulting in weakness of the muscle. PNF exercises help to re-educate the motor units which are lost due to the injury. Improved flexibility leads to better biomechanics, reduces fatigue, and helps to prevent overuse injuries.
What is Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation?
Sports and recreational injuries happen to approximately 26 adults per 1000 persons in the United States every single year. Among children and teens less than 14 years old, 3.5 million get hurt annually participating in recreational activities and sports events.Physical and occupational therapists employ different methods to help these patients recover from their injuries; and one of the most popular methods they use to restore the strength and the full range of motion of these individuals is through the use of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, or simply PNF.
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF) is a stretching technique that aims to improve the skeletal muscles’ elasticity. Although most therapists use it to restore their patients’ functional range of motion after a soft tissue damage or an invasive surgical procedure, some coaches also implement this technique to increase the flexibility and strength of individual muscle groups of their athletes.
PNF concentrates on function rather than simply weakness. PNF exercises concentrate on the combination of movements rather than just one specific movement. The reasoning behind this is simple, life rarely moves in one plane. In other words, body parts are rarely moved in one direction alone. For example, people rarely raise their arm straight forward or extend their leg straight back. Even in a seemingly simple movement like walking the legs move forward at the hips, bend at the knees while moving in toward the midline. These movements must all happen smoothly and simultaneously. By addressing these complex movements, a patient can return to normal daily activities or sports more quickly.
PNF also includes a form of stretching that can be included in a patient’s treatment or in their home program. This form of stretching utilizes the physiology of muscles to create more relaxation while the stretch is being performed. This type of stretching has been shown to create a larger change in muscle length than traditional stretching.
The PNF Principle
The principle behind PNF exercises is simple – it is based on the stretch reflex caused by the stimulation of the golgi tendon (the minute sensory organ within each muscle fiber that senses changes in the muscle tension) and the muscle spindle (the sensory receptor within the belly of the muscles which detects changes in the muscle length). Stimulating these receptors results in the release of impulses to the brain, which, in turn, leads to the contraction and relaxation of the stimulated muscle group.
What are the Advantages of Using PNF in Injured Athletes?
When a body part is injured, muscle weakness becomes evident – a natural consequence of the delayed stimulation of the muscle spindles and golgi tendons. To restore muscle strength, therapists use PNF exercises to re-educate these injured motor units and make them responsive again. By using this stretching technique, injured athletes can achieve better flexibility leading to reduced fatigue, better biomechanics and muscular strength, prevention overuse injuries, and decreased chances of having another injury from sports accidents.
However, PNF exercises do not only restore muscle strength – they also help improve the range of motion and movement combinations of the injured body part, making each combined movement smooth and coordinated, thereby bringing back and even increasing the overall performance of the injured athlete.