Facilitated Stretching Introduction

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Jan. 3, 2018 - I replaced the video on this page with a longer, more comprehensive video.

 

In recent years I have moved from doing PNF stretches to doing facilitated stretching. I find the facilitated stretching to be more effective and safer.

Effectiveness

Facilitated stretching is effective because it utilizes two physiological principles, post isometric relaxation and reciprocal inhibition.

Post Isometric Relaxation

After an isometric contraction a muscle is fatigued and will stretch further. This occurs whether the contraction is near maximum, as in PNF stretching, or if the contraction is done at 10% as with facilitated stretching. It is important to stretch the muscle soon after isometric contraction, as there is a 15 second window of opportunity after an isometric contraction that the muscle will stretch further.

Reciprocal Inhibition

When a muscle contracts, its antagonist is neurologically inhibited, or made weaker. This happens so that we can have more efficiency of movement without our muscles fighting each other. This principle can be used to advantage by having the client actively stretch a muscle before we assist the stretch. To actively stretch a muscle the antagonist is used, so the muscle being stretched is inhibited and can stretch further.

This same principle of reciprocal inhibition is used in the treatment of muscle cramps, and also in other massage techniques such as Soft Tissue Release. See the sections on Reciprocal Inhibition and on Soft Tissue Release for more information.

Reciprocal Inhibition does not occur in all instances of muscle contraction. There are times when a muscle contracts in conjunction with its antagonist, such as when bracing an extremity. In these instances the principle of reciprocal inhibition is muted, so the muscles can work together.

Safety

Facilitated stretching is safer than PNF stretches for two reasons.

1. Less effort is used by the client in the isometric contraction, so there is less chance of a muscle tear.

2. When the client stretches the muscle after the isometric contraction, the muscle is inhibited, so there is less risk of stretching a muscle that is still maintaining a contraction.


Guidelines for Facilitated Stretching

1. While your client is exhaling, slowly stretch the muscle to its maximum length and hold.

2. With the muscle maximally stretched, have your client tense the muscle, using only 10% of their strength against your resistance. Resist your client’s effort to contract the muscle so that no movement takes place. This isometric contraction of the muscle should be done for just 10 seconds.

3. After 10 seconds have your client stretch the muscle further, using the antagonist muscle.

4. Gently assist the client with the stretch at the end, after they initiate the stretch. Any stretching should be pain free.

Cautions:

Do not do facilitated stretches after a recent muscle strain, or in pre or post event massage.

Do not have the client contract an already shortened muscle as it will be more susceptible to cramping. For this reason I don’t do facilitated stretches to the quadriceps as the hamstrings can cramp when activated in a shortened position.

Related Pages:

Facilitated Stretching Page

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