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Finding Sweet Dreams With Progressive Muscle Relaxation

I never thought that something as simple as tightening muscles could make such a massive difference in my life…but it did! Progressive Muscle Relaxation is an evidence-based, simple yet effective technique that can reduce tension, improve your mood, and help you sleep better.

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a technique that was developed in the 1920s by an American physician named Edmund Jacobson. The process involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups throughout the body gradually and progressively.

PMR aims to increase awareness of muscle tension and release it, helping to reduce muscle tension, alleviate pain, and promote feelings of relaxation for great sleep. You can start practising for 5-10 minutes each day and gradually increase the time as you become more comfortable with the technique.

The procedure of PMR involves tensing and relaxing each muscle group listed below as tightly as you can for a short time, typically around 5-10 seconds, starting with the feet and progressing upward to the head, and then as you release, focus on the sensation of relaxation.

This process is usually done in the following order:

  1. Feet and toes
  2. Calves
  3. Thighs
  4. Hips and buttocks
  5. Abdomen
  6. Chest
  7. Arms and hands
  8. Neck and shoulders
  9. Face

It’s a great stress management technique for which you don’t require any equipment and is effective in reducing symptoms of anxiety and stress. The method has also been used to help with various physical and emotional conditions, such as headaches, insomnia, chronic pain, high blood pressure and stress (Ganjeali et al., 2022, Tan et al., 2022, Tanrıverdi & Parlar Kılıç, 2022, Yoo et al., 2022).

Pain often occurs when tense muscles cause ischemia (reduced or blocked blood flow) near painful areas (McCaffery & Beebe, 1989). PMR is believed to work by relaxing muscles, and blood flow is eased, alleviating the pain (Yoo et al., 2022).

A randomised controlled trial was conducted on 37 patients with fibromyalgia syndrome, a condition Yoo et al., (2022) report “is accompanied by symptoms of fatigue, depression, sleep disorders, and physical and mental stress”.

The trial measured the effects of progressive muscle relaxation therapy compared to conventional treatment on pain and fatigue over eight weeks. Yoo et al., (2022) concluded that PMR positively reduced all three symptoms. Interestingly, for the non-PMR control group receiving conventional treatment, their “fatigue, systolic blood pressure, and pulse rate increased after the intervention” (Yoo et al., 2022). These results also reflect the findings of previous trials in this area, some of which are listed in the reference section below.

From all of the research I read (there was much more than what is listed below, as I only recorded what was referenced in this article), PMR can be an excellent tool for many health conditions. Best of all, it doesn’t cost anything to try. You only need to commit to doing it regularly to see any benefit; like anything, results will vary, but I felt a difference within just a few days, and my sleep benefited considerably.

If you decide to try it, drop me a tweet and let me know how you went!

References

Ganjeali, S., Farsi, Z., Sajadi, S. A., & Zarea, K. (2022). The effect of the demonstration-based progressive muscle relaxation technique on stress and anxiety in nurses caring for COVID-19 patients: A randomized clinical trial. BMC Psychiatry, 22(1), 1–9. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12888-022-04456-3

McCaffery, M., & Beebe, A. (1989). Pain: Clinical manual for nursing practice. Mosby Incorporated.

Tan, L., Fang, P., Cui, J., Yu, H., & Yu, L. (2022). Effects of progressive muscle relaxation on health-related outcomes in cancer patients: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 49, 101676. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2022.101676

Tanrıverdi, S., & Parlar Kılıç, S. (2022). The Effect of Progressive Muscle Relaxation on Abdominal Pain and Distension in Colonoscopy Patients. Journal of PeriAnesthesia Nursing. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jopan.2022.04.013

Yoo, S.-A., Kim, C.-Y., Kim, H.-D., & Kim, S.-W. (2022). Effects of progressive muscle relaxation therapy with home exercise on pain, fatigue, and stress in subjects with fibromyalgia syndrome: A pilot randomized controlled trial. Journal of Back & Musculoskeletal Rehabilitation, 35(2), 289–299.