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PNF Stretching

PNF stretching is considered to be the most effective way to increase static flexibility and is a combination of static passive stretching and isometric stretching. PNF stands for Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation and was first developed as a treatment for paralysis patients.

PNF stretching is usually carried out with a partner who provides the resistance for the isometric contraction although it can be done without a partner (but generally will be less effective). If using a partner, then it is important that the partner be attentive and focused.

Pnf StretchingThe most commonly used PNF technique is the “Hold-Relax” which is sometimes referred to as the “Contract-Relax”. The muscle is stretched passively towards the limit of its range of motion and then the muscle being stretched is isometrically contracted for 5-15 seconds after which the muscle is relaxed for a couple of seconds before being subjected to a passive stretch which should be greater than the initial passive stretch. This stretch is held for around 10-15 seconds before repeating the PNF stretch one or two more times.

PNF Stretching Examples: Hamstring Stretch
For an example of a PNF stretch, then the person being stretched lies flat on their back with one leg bent at 45 degrees and the other leg extended straight. The partner lifts the straight leg until a comfortable stretch is felt through the hamstring (nb partner just supports the stretched leg and does not push). This stretch is held for 15 seconds.

The stretchee should then isometrically contract the hamstring against partner’s resistance for 5-15 seconds, relaxes and the partner gently guides the hamstring to a deeper stretch. This is repeated a few more times until there is no further increase in range of motion.

Brief PNF Physiology of Stretching
Muscles spindles cells located within the muscles, protect the muscle from injury. They sense how far and fast a muscle is being stretched and when activated produce a stretch reflex. This reflex causes the muscles to contract to prevent overstretching the muscle.

Located within the muscle tendon is another sensor called the golgi tendon which senses how much tension is being put upon the tendon. When the golgi tendon is activated then it relaxes the muscles (unlike the muscle spindle).

A voluntary contraction during a stretch increases the tension on the muscle, activating the golgi tendon organs more than the stretch alone. So when the voluntary contraction is stopped the muscle is inhibited from contracting against a subsequent stretch. PNF stretches uses this to take advantage of the sudden vulnerability of the muscle and its increased range of motion by using the period immediately following the isometric contraction to train the stretch receptors to get used to this new, increased, muscle length. This is accomplished by the final passive stretch.

Some General Recommendations for PNF Stretching

•Leave 48 hours between PNF stretching routines
•For each muscle group complete 2-5 sets of the chosen exercise
•Each set should consist of one stretch held for 10-15 seconds after the contracting and relaxing phases
•PNF is not recommended for anyone under 18 years old
•A 5-10 minute thorough warm up is recommended before performing PNF stretching as a separate exercise session.

While most of us could obtain benefit from the improvement in flexbility that PNF stretching can bring, there is some conjecture amongst sports professionals about the effective of stretching in general to reduce the risk of injuries and to improve performance. Although there is some conflicting evidence reported, on balance research literature reviews such as reported by Thacker et al (1) support the hypothesis that routine stretching has little impact on reducing total injuries amongst competitive or recreational athletes.

  
However, research has also found that pnf stretching may lead to improvements in running mechanics. Caplan et al (2) concluded from studying rubgy league players that stretch training at the end of regular training is effective in improving running mechanics during high velocity running.

As with all stretches, only take a PNF to the limit of what feels comfortable. Pain is an indication that you are overstretching.

In addition, there are advantages and disadvantages of PNF stretching and it may be worthwhile discussing these with a suitably qualified sports therapist.

(1) Thacker SB, Gilchrist J, Stroup DF, Kimsey CD., Jr. “The impact of stretching on sports injury risk: a systematic review of the literature”. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004;36:371-378
(2) Caplan N, Roggers R, Parr MK, Hayes PR. “The effect of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation and static stretch training on running mechanics.” J Strength Cond Res, 2009, 23: 1175-1180

By Richard Lane

Massage and Back Pain
– Research Findings

There are many reasons why people book in for a mobile massage in Sydney with us. It can be purely to de-stress and wind down. It can be as a reward for working hard. It can be part of a sportsman training regime to include a regular sports massage. However, the majority of people that we see are suffering from physical discomfort and they are looking for remedial therapy to help them reduce the pain and tightness they are experiencing.

Massage for back pain reliefNeck /shoulder pain and headaches are probably the top of the list for the reason why people book in for a remedial massage and many people know that massage is a great way to deal with these problems. The next most popular reason for getting a remedial or deep tissue massage is for lower back pain and there is some good news that recent research has found that massage may very help is dealing with the pain and suffering that lower back pain can cause.

When suffering from lower back pain many people seek out medications from their doctor to treat the pain. Others try exercise regimes from physiotherapist. However, a significant proportion of experiencing and secondly as a form of preventative maintenance once they are relatively pain-free. Researchers set out to ascertain whether massage compared favourably against usual medical intervention for treating lower back pain.

In the study (1), carried out by researchers from the Group Health Research Institute, Seattle, Washington, the study participants were randomly assigned to receive either a relaxation massage, a structural (remedial/deep tissue) massage or usual medical care without massage. Their symptoms had been assessed and also recorded was the impact of the back pain on their daily life.

Those in the massage groups had a one hour session weekly for 10 weeks.

The symptoms of those in the study were recorded after completing the massage program, at six months and finally a year after they initially began the massage.

The results obtained were encouraging for the massage industry. After the 10 week assessment, the researchers found that those who had received massage had lower levels of pain and they were able to perform daily tasks better than those who had only received the usual medical care. These results were similar regardless of which type of massage they received, be it relaxation or structural.

Whilst the benefits did not remain after one year, there was still a significant difference with the results obtained after 6 months and so it may be reasonable to conclude that massage can be an effective treatment for those who are suffering from lower back pain.

(1) Cherkin DC, Sherman KJ, Kahn J, Wellman R, Cook AJ, Johnson E, Erro J, Delaney K, Deyo RA. “A comparison of the effects of 2 types of massage and usual care on chronic low back pain: a randomized, controlled trial.” Ann Intern Med. 2011 Jul 5;155(1):1-9.

By Richard Lane

Positional Release

Most people who have regular remedial or therapeutic massage in Sydney would probably prefer to have the therapist to get stuck into the muscles and the soft tissues. Certainly with our Sydney mobile massage business, deep tissue and deep pressure massage are more popular than Swedish or relaxation massage.
However, not all clients necessarily respond best to a stronger massage and recently I’ve some good results with incorporating positional release techniques within a session (particularly when the deep tissue techniques have not yielded the benefits that I would like to have seen).

Therapeutic relief through positional release techniquesPositional release is a gentle and relatively non-invasive technique that allows for pain relief effectively by the body healing itself. It relies on the use of placing the body or painful part of the body in a comfortable position so that myofascial trigger points can release.

Positional release can be incorporated into a remedial massage bodywork session to assist with reducing the pain for particularly stubborn area or it can be considered as a standalone session. In addition, once you have experienced pain relief from using positional release then it is possible to perform some level of self-positional release.
In order to perform positional release, then a therapist will locate the areas of dysfunction (most often affected by trigger points) and then they will manoeuvre the client’s body into such a position that the pain experienced from the trigger point is eliminated (or at least minimised). The client will stay in this position for up to 2-3 minutes (which may be assisted by the therapist supporting an arm, a leg or the head for example).

The philosophy behind of positional release is that painful muscles when put into such a position that they are shortened (without contraction) then the pain sensors within the muscle can in effect be “switched off”. The muscle may then be in a more relaxed state when the passive support is removed and the level of pain and discomfort can be decreased.

Self-Positional Release
If you are having problems with soreness in your neck then lie on your side on a pillow and using your fingers or thumb find a spot that is particularly tender. Often these points are just below the occiput (ie just under the bone of the skull at the back of the neck). Now very slowly and very easily move your head in different directions whilst monitoring the pain you are experiencing. You may need to tilt your head backwards, forwards or to the side or even rotate it in one direction. Hopefully you will move into such positions that the pain will be reducing – if you find that it is actually increasing then move in the opposite direction.

  
Once you have found a position such that the pain is minimised then support your head as much as possible in that position and just stay there for a couple of minutes (no need to keep monitoring the pain with your fingers at this time). Gradually ease yourself back into a normal position and hopefully your pain will be less. If you need to work on the opposite side then simply turn over and repeat.

Obviously never force your head into uncomfortable or strained positions whilst you are attempting to perform self-positional release and if you have any concerns regarding the pain and discomfort you are feeling, always consult a health care professional.

By Richard Lane

Spondylolisthesis and Massage Therapy

Many people book in for remedial and therapeutic massage because of lower back pain. However, the causes of lower back pain can vary considerably and they are poorly understood. Massage therapy can be appropriate for a significant proportion of those who present with lower back pain due to muscular tightness and/or trigger points. However, massage therapists are not permitted to diagnose conditions and there are some patients for whom massage is contraindicated or for whom massage should only be performed under the direction of a suitable physician.

One such condition for which massage therapists should be extremely cautious is spondylolisthesis. If you think or suspect that a client may be presenting with spondylolisthesis then you should consider that the massage is contraindicated.
Spondylolisthesis arises from a stress fracture in the vertebrae, most typically in the L5-S1 region and occurs when one vertebra actually slides forward relative to another because of the fracture.
Activities that cause repeated flexion and extension of the spine are considered to be risk factors for the development of spondylolisthesis. Gymnasts, butterfly swimmers, weightlifters, for example, are particularly susceptible. In addition excessive lumbar lordosis is often considered to be a contributing factor as the greater curvature of the spine can place increase loads and the tilt angles at various parts of the spine.
Clients who present with spondylolisthesis will likely complain of dull pain in the lower lumbar or upper sacral areas and this pain will normally occur after the person has been performing the repeated flexion/extension activities. If a therapist tries to palpate the area then pain levels can increase if there is anterior forces being applied to the spine that can further contribute to forward slipping. X-rays or MRI scans may be required to confirm the presence of an anterior slipped vertebra.
Treatment for spondylolisthesis will normally begin with rest and refraining from carrying out any activities that flex/extend the spine. Some physical therapists may suggest bracing of the back to prevent further movement. It is likely that some strengthening and flexibility training may be incorporated into a rehab programme and it is at this point that a massage therapist is most likely to become involved. Under direction, the therapist may target muscles that have become hypertonic in response to compensating for pain.
However, a word of caution is that hamstrings will often tighten in those who are suffering from the condition. The reason for this is that they are effectively trying to rotate the pelvis posteriorly and minimise further vertebral slipping. Releasing tight hamstrings in spondylolisthesis patients would generally not be recommended, particularly in the early stages of rehabilitation.

By Richard Lane


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