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Review
, 36 (11), 929-39

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching : Mechanisms and Clinical Implications

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Review

Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation Stretching : Mechanisms and Clinical Implications

Melanie J Sharman et al. Sports Med.

Abstract

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching techniques are commonly used in the athletic and clinical environments to enhance both active and passive range of motion (ROM) with a view to optimising motor performance and rehabilitation. PNF stretching is positioned in the literature as the most effective stretching technique when the aim is to increase ROM, particularly in respect to short-term changes in ROM. With due consideration of the heterogeneity across the applied PNF stretching research, a summary of the findings suggests that an 'active' PNF stretching technique achieves the greatest gains in ROM, e.g. utilising a shortening contraction of the opposing muscle to place the target muscle on stretch, followed by a static contraction of the target muscle. The inclusion of a shortening contraction of the opposing muscle appears to have the greatest impact on enhancing ROM. When including a static contraction of the target muscle, this needs to be held for approximately 3 seconds at no more than 20% of a maximum voluntary contraction. The greatest changes in ROM generally occur after the first repetition and in order to achieve more lasting changes in ROM, PNF stretching needs to be performed once or twice per week. The superior changes in ROM that PNF stretching often produces compared with other stretching techniques has traditionally been attributed to autogenic and/or reciprocal inhibition, although the literature does not support this hypothesis. Instead, and in the absence of a biomechanical explanation, the contemporary view proposes that PNF stretching influences the point at which stretch is perceived or tolerated. The mechanism(s) underpinning the change in stretch perception or tolerance are not known, although pain modulation has been suggested.

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