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The ongoing myth of reciprocal inhibition….

March 29, 2011

This is a topic that is frequently discussed at both F.A.P. and F.R. seminars as the concept of ‘reciprocal inhibition’ remains a staple of many manual therapy approaches dispite the fact literature has disproven this theory.  Here is an exerpt taken from ‘Evidence Based Sports Medicine’ by MacAuley and Best – chapter 7, written by Ian Shrier:

“PNF stretching is also an interesting example of how myths can be propagated within the medical literature.  When it was first proposed in the early 1970s, PNF techniques were based upon the basic science finding that stretching/activity of the antagonist muscle creates reciprocal inhibition of the agonist muscle.  When tested, PNF techniques were indeed shown to increase ROM more than static stretching.  However, these initial studies did not measure muscle activity so the reason for the increased ROM was not known.  In fact, when EMG was recorded in 1979, the reciprocal inhibition theory was disproved.(1)  Although these results have been confirmed more recently, (2,3,4) the myth of reciprocal inhibition continues to be promoted in textbooks and the medical literature.  In fact, muscles are electrically silient during normal stretches until the end ROM is neared.  Suprisingly, PNF techniques actually increase the electrical activity of the muscle during the stretch, (1, 3-4) even though the range of motion is increased (2,1,5)

1.  Moore MA, Hutton RS.  Electromyographic investigation of muscle stretching techniques.  Med Sci Sports Exercise 1980;12:322-9.
2.  Magnusson SP, Simonsen EB, Aagaard P, Dyhre-Poulsen P, McHugh MP, Kjaer M.  Mechanical and physiological responses to stretching with and without preisometric contraction in human skeletal muscle.  Arch Phys Med Rehabil 1996;77:373-8.
3.  Markos PD.  Ipsilateral and contralateral effects of proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation techniques on hip motion and electromyographic activity.  Phys Ther 1979;59:1366-73.
4.  Osternig LR, Robertson R, Troxel R, Hansen P.  Muscle activation during proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching techniques.  Am J Phys Med 1987;66:298-307.
5.  Halbertsma JPK, Goeken LNH.  Stretching exercises:  Effect on passive extensibility and stiffness in short hamstrings of health subjects.  Arch Phys Med Rehabil 1994;75:976-81.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike permalink
    May 18, 2014 4:59 pm

    Well, this is wrong because A) The PNF technique was discovered in the early 1900s, and B) LOTS of studies (admittedly, not ALL) indicate PNF may be more effective at increasing AROM/PROM than other forms of stretching, including static. How do I know all this? Because I am currently doing research on this for my very own study that compares PROM increases in static vs. IASTM vs. MET (muscle energy techniques).

    • May 19, 2014 12:52 pm

      “This is all wrong”…please tell Ian Shrier that…one of the foremost authorities on stretching. But first re read it as I never said anything about if it increases rang or not (never been shown to be long lasting)…only that the mechanism is not via a LASTING reciprocal inhibitory effect as it is only a reflex

    • May 19, 2014 1:00 pm

      And btw…don’t use words like “I know” and “you’re wrong” in your paper. Its highly unscientific.

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