PNF originated in the 1940s and 1950s to assist in the stretching and strengthening of patients with spinal cord injuries and neuromuscular disorders.
PNF uses passive and active techniques to improve flexibility, coordination, stability, and mobility of joints, muscles, and other connective tissues. The use of quick stretches and autogenic and reciprocal inhibition (basically the relaxation of muscles after they contract) are used to allow muscles that are hypertonic to relax. More technical definition: PNF uses the firing of certain proprioceptors to inhibit the “at rest” contraction of muscles.
Since the 1980s or so, PNF has been used in many other aspects of physical therapy and fitness training besides neuro rehab. From personal use, I can tell you PNF is very effective in retraining functional movement patterns due to its use of diagonal movements (if you think about it, it’s rare to perform a functional movement in one plane of motion). I frequently use PNF techniques to decrease tone in the quads, hip flexors, hamstrings, biceps, upper traps, etc, leading to large gains in ROM and function, as well as decreasing pain and discomfort. In my opinion there are few techniques that can actually stretch, and decrease tone as effectively as PNF.
For strengthening, PNF can actually be performed in “healthier” individuals with the use of exercise bands. Patient with stability/postural issues within the shoulders and hips can regain needed mobility allowing proper posture to be restored.
There are many different techniques to be used with PNF. Hold-Relax, contract-relax, alternating isometrics, rhythmic initiation, blah, blah, blah, but I’m definitely not going into that much detail because PNF is such an extensive BUT AWESOME method that I could be typing a dissertation on it. I have provided you with two links below that warrant your attention, as well as two videos of upper extremity movement patterns used during PNF. If you are unfamiliar with PNF, you need to get together with someone who is so you can be taght some of these methods. PNF is a versatile tool that all fitness professionals and physical therapist should understand and use to their advantage.
Videos and Links:
D1 Upper Extremity Flexion and Extension (Sorry for the poor video quality)
D2 Upper Extremity Flexion and Extension (Sorry for the poor video quality)