Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation (PNF)
Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation – otherwise known as 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.
PNF is a form of rehabilitation that 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.
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.