Proprioceptive neuromuscular fascilitation developed in the 1940s to help treat polio patients with paralysis. Later on it was adapted to various other conditions, such as sport injuries.
The main aim of PNF is to improve strength, flexibility and coordination of a movement in a limb. It focuses on the functional component of movement, rather than isolating it to one movement. This was found to result in quicker movement restoration. This makes sense because, when we move, we use a variety of muscles at the same time and one muscle in various ways.
PNF involves the general movement of the entire limb in a specific way. The therapist will show you how to place your limb and then how to move it. She may hold your limbs in a way that will provide resistance or allow smooth movement of a joint. The movement of the joint may be through the entire range of motion for each of the joints, or may focus on a specific joint or muscle.
Although PNF can be used for many conditions, the basic principles remain the same. All PNF exercises are based on a specific sequence of movements. Looking at your limb while you move it or verbal cues from the physio will help the control through movement. The technique usually requires that you push against the physio in a way that produces a smooth coordinated movement. Rotation and diagonal movement of the limb, as well as timing of the sequence, are important for optimal results. Timing can place emphisis on a specific part of the movement.If strengthening is the goal of using PNF, the physio may provide a quick stretch to the muscle before it contracts, allowing the muscle to respond with greater force through the movement.
PNF can be used for improving coordination. This is mainly used in patients with central nervous system disturbances (i.e. damage to the brain or spinal chord). The main aim would be for them to improve their control of a specific movement.
Strengthening may be for a paralysed or weak limb that is the result of central nervous system disturbances (e.g. stroke/polio) or in weakness of specific muscles due to an injury (e.g. sport injury, postural problems).
Stretching of a muscle/s may be used in similar conditions where the muscles are tight (has increased tone) or stiff. Whether improving coordination, stretching or strengthening, the ultimate goal of PNF would be to restore functional movement in that limb. Specific examples include being able to use a leg to walk again after a stroke, or play a tennis match after a shoulder injury.