Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation or PNF refers to a technique whereby a targeted muscle is stretched and contracted alternately with the objective of improving flexibility, range of motion and enhancing body biomechanics. The word proprioceptive is based on the Latin words ‘proprius’ which means one’s own and ‘receptio’ meaning to receive. It refers to the body’s ability to sense its position and muscle movement without visual input. The nerve endings in the muscles provide information for position and activity.

The term Proprioception goes back to the work of Sir Charles Scott Sherrington, a noted neurophysiologist who won the Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1932. Sherrington put forward that information from the muscles, tendons and joint sources informs the body of position and movement. Sensory nerves in the muscles provide information to the brain.

The basis of PNF is the body’s stretch reflex. In a stretch, sensory nerves in the muscle called muscle spindles detect a change in the length of the muscle and a signal is sent to contract the muscle. The golgi tendon detects a change in the tension of the muscle and sends a signal to relax the muscle to prevent overstretch. In PNF, a therapist will begin by working the muscle to a gentle stretch then have the client contract the muscle against some resistance. Finally the client will relax the muscle. The stretching and isometric movement combination allows a deep stretch, re-educates the body mechanisms and enhances flexibility.  There are various PNF stretch techniques for specific body areas such as chest, lower back or hamstrings.

PNF can put added stress on the targeted muscle, so precautions must be taken to avoid soft tissue injury.  It is important to perform a thorough warm up prior to this intensive stretching.  Increasing the body’s core temperature and muscle temperature will ensure maximum benefit is gained from stretching.

For optimum motor performance and rehabilitation, consult a physiotherapist or registered massage therapist for information on proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation stretching.

Specific Techniques


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