Proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation, or PNF, is a long term that describes a type of stretching. Typically this involves another person providing resistance as you contract and then relax the muscle group you wish to stretch. You actually combine an isometric stretch with a static stretch. However, PNF stretches for the neck do not need an additional person because you can easily reach your neck to provide the resistance for the isometric contraction.
PNF stretching is the quickest way to increase static-passive flexibility. The trick to PNF stretching is to make your muscles contract isometrically first. To do this, you need to give your muscles a force to resist so that they can contract without moving. Isometric contractions are not the same as concentric or eccentric contractions whereby the length of the muscle group changes to move a joint. This is easy for neck muscles because just your hand is enough for resistance.
The sterno-cleido-mastoid, or SCM, muscle is most commonly the source of neck pain, states The Back Pain Advisor. This muscle runs along the front of the neck on each side. To stretch this muscle with a PNF stretch, turn your head as far to the right as you can without pain. Place your right palm on your forehead and your left palm on the back of your head. Now try to turn your head back to look forward, and resist this turn with your hands for six seconds. Then relax your neck, and hold the stretch for 20 seconds without resistance. Do three reps, and then stretch the left side.
Back of the Neck Stretch
The back of the neck stretch uses the same PNF principles, just for the rear of the neck muscles instead of the SCM exclusively. To perform this stretch, tilt your chin toward your chest until you feel the back of your neck stretching, then place either hand on the back of your neck. Press your head into your hand for six seconds, offering resistance with the hand so the neck does not move. Relax for 20 seconds, and stretch again.
Lateral Neck Stretch
The lateral neck PNF stretch targets the scalenes, upper trapezius and levator scapulae neck muscles. To perform this stretch, tilt your head to the left, and reach over your head with your left arm to place your palm on the right side of your head. Turn your chin toward your right collarbone. Press against your hand for six seconds, and then relax. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds, and then switch sides.