Massage Therapy: Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation or PNF


Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) was first developed in by Herman Kabat M.D., Ph.D., and physical therapists Margaret Knott and Dorothy Voss in the 1950s as a treatment modality for patients who were paralyzed after stroke. Originally designed to facilitate flexibility, strength and muscular coordination, PNF is now used by many massage therapists, sports trainers and physical therapists.

PNF stretching is a combination of passive stretching and isometric resistance. Usually the assistance of a massage therapist is required, although for some stretches it is not essential. The most common PNF stretching technique is the “contract-relax” method. This consists of stretching a muscle group passively, stabilizing the limb or body structure, and then contracting the muscle group isometrically (using muscle contraction without moving the joint(s) involved) while in a stretched position, then relaxing the muscle group and finally increasing the stretch passively.

PNF work is currently the fastest and most effective way known to increase passive flexibility and help muscles relax chronic tension and holding. Research indicates that PNF is not only a superior style of stretching; it also has benefits beyond improving flexibility and range of motion, including building muscle strength overall. PNF stretching is most often integrated into other massage techniques during a therapeutic or medical massage. This technique is quite useful in helping muscles relax after trauma or injury, such as in auto accidents and sports injuries.