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What is Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation?

D. Messmer
D. Messmer

Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation is a form of stretching exercise that uses both stretching and muscle contraction to enable a muscle to stretch beyond its usual range of motion. This results in a very intense stretch and thus provides exceptional benefits to an athlete's flexibility. Physical therapists in the 1940s and 1950s first developed the process of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation as a physical therapy procedure for paralysis victims. Since then, it has become popular among athletes because it can do far more to increase flexibility than traditional passive stretching exercises.

In order to perform proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, an athlete must first begin a traditional stretch. A trainer then provides resistance against the stretch while the athlete contracts the muscle undergoing the stretch. This contraction normally would cause the body part to move, but the resistance that the trainer provides keeps it in place so that the result is a deep stretch of the muscle tissue. There is some debate about the amount of time that the athlete should contract the muscle, but in most cases it should be no more than five or six seconds.

Woman posing
Woman posing

After the athlete stops contracting the muscle, the trainer will then apply pressure in order to stretch the muscle beyond its usual range of motion. The earlier contraction will have loosened the muscle enough that the muscle should now stretch further than it did before. Again, there is some debate about how long the trainer should provide this stretch, but roughly 30 seconds usually is appropriate. After the stretch is complete, the athlete should let the muscle rest for at least 30 seconds before stretching it any more.

The intensity of the stretching makes it important that an athlete exercise caution when performing proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation. First, it is always important to warm up prior to any stretching exercises. Warming up will increase the internal body temperature, including the temperature of the muscles receiving the stretch, and this will enable them to stretch farther and more safely. During proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, it is crucial that an athlete not overexert himself or herself by contracting the muscle beyond its capabilities, because this can result in soft tissue damage. It also is important that the trainer providing the resistance have experience with proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation so that he or she doesn't apply too much pressure and overstretch the muscle.

It is important to utilize proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation with some level of caution, but the benefits of this process can be of great value to many athletes. Stretching can be a very effective way to improve athletic performance. It also is a good way to protect the body from injury.

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