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Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching is a technique which is used to increase flexibility and range of motion. It is usually integrated into a larger routine which is intended to keep the muscles conditioned or to help someone recover from an injury. PNF stretching is used in rehabilitation facilities, by athletes in training, and by people who simply want to work on keeping fit.
The origins of PNF stretching lie in the 1940s, when it was initially introduced as a therapeutic technique for people in rehabilitation for paralysis. Eventually it was expanded to other aspects of rehabilitation therapy and picked up by athletic trainers who saw that it had benefits for athletes in training as well as athletes recovering from injuries. As with other stretching and workout techniques used by professional athletes, the technique trickled down to people engaging in exercise for fitness and other reasons.
In PNF stretching, a partner is required. The partner gently moves a limb into position, usually moving it just into a place where the person feels some discomfort, but no pain. The limb can simply be held in place for a set period for a passive stretch, or the person stretching can be asked to contract the muscles against the partner's hand for a resistance stretch. After the stretch, range of motion is usually slightly increased, and when this is done on a regular basis, range of motion overall will improve.
For patients in rehabilitation, PNF stretching can help to improve muscle tone, stretch muscles past the point where they can be stretched independent, and improve the flexibility and range. People can be moved through a series of PNF stretches after they have fully warmed up with other stretching routines and improvements are often noted very quickly. It is important to avoid overuse of PNF stretching techniques, however, because people can be injured if their muscles are stretched too far, too soon.
There are a range of poses which people can be moved through in a PNF stretching session. It is important to have the stretches supervised by someone who has received training in this stretching technique. It is possible to injure someone who has not warmed up properly and to cause injuries by not posing the limbs correctly or applying too much pressure. As part of an overall physiotherapy routine, PNF stretching can be very valuable when combined with other types of stretches. For athletes, this technique can prevent injuries and hasten recovery from injuries.