More on Stretching? Enough already, eh?

The last few weeks , we have been talking about techniques to improve your (or your clients) stretching experience. 1st, we talked about reciprocal inhibition here. Next we talked about post isometric inhibition here. The we spoke about the symmetrical tonic neck reflex (response) here. If there is a symmetrical tonic neck reflex, then there must be an asymmetrical one as well, eh? That is the topic of todays discussion

The asymmetrical tonic neck reflex was 1st described by Magnus and de Kleyn in 1912 (1). Like in the pictures above, when the head is rotated to one side, there is ipsilateral extension of the upper and lower extremity on that side, and flexion of the contralateral (the side AWAY from where you are rotating) upper and lower extremity. Take a few minutes to see the subtleness of the reflex in the pictures above. Now think about how this occurs in your clients/patients.  The reflex is everywhere!

The reflex persists into adulthood (2) and is modulated by both eye movement and muscular activity (3). When there is neurological compromise, the reflex can be more prevalent, and it seems to arise from the joint mechanoreceptors in the neck and its connection to the reticular formation of the brainstem (4). It may modulate blood flow and cardiovascular activity as well (5). 

So, how can we take advantage of this? We could follow in the footsteps of Berta Bobath (6) and incorporate these into our rehabilitation programs, which we have done, quite successfully. But rather than read a whole book, lets talk about how you could incorporate this into your stretching program. 

Let’s say you want to stretch the right hamstring:

  • actively rotating the head to the right (see reference 3) facilitates the right tricep and right quadricep AND facilitates the left bicep and left hamstring
  • through reciprocal inhibition, this would inhibit the right bicep and hamstring AND left tricep and left quadricep
  • To get a little more out of the stretch, you could actively contract the right tricep and quadricep (MORE reciprocal inhibition), amplifying the effect

We encourage you to try this, both on yourself and your clients. It really works!

Wow, isn’t neurology cool? And you thought it was only for geeks!

The Gait Guys. Giving you info you can use in a practical manner, each and every post. Be a geek. Spread the word. 

  1. http://www.worldneurologyonline.com/article/arthur-simons-tonic-neck-reflexes-hemiplegic-persons/#sthash.6QS3Eat3.dpuf 
  2. Bruijn SM1, Massaad F, Maclellan MJ, Van Gestel L, Ivanenko YP, Duysens J. Are effects of the symmetric and asymmetric tonic neck reflexes still visible in healthy adults?Neurosci Lett. 2013 Nov 27;556:89-92. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2013.10.028. Epub 2013 Oct

  3. Le Pellec A1, Maton B. Influence of tonic neck reflexes on the upper limb stretch reflex in man. J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 1996 Jun;6(2):73-82.

  4. Michael D. Ellis, Justin Drogos, Carolina Carmona, Thierry Keller, Julius P. A. Dewal Neck rotation modulates flexion synergy torques, indicating an ipsilateral reticulospinal source for impairment in stroke Journal of NeurophysiologyDec 2012,108(11)3096-3104;DOI: 10.1152/jn.01030.2011

  5. Hervé Normand, Olivier Etard and Pierre Denise Otolithic and tonic neck receptors control of limb blood flow in humans J Appl Physiol  82:1734-1738, 1997.

  6. Berta Bobath, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (Great Britain)  Abnormal postural reflex activity caused by brain lesions Aspen Systems Corp. Rockville, MD, 1985 –