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An In-depth Look into Progressive Muscle Relaxation


Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a widely recognized relaxation technique that has been used for many years across many fields. It involves the deliberate tensing and subsequent releasing of different muscle groups in the body, allowing for a profound sense of relaxation to be achieved. By consciously tensing and then releasing each muscle group, individuals can release built-up tension and experience a greater overall sense of calm and tranquility.


Muscle relaxation has been an important therapeutic technique in the modern treatment of anxiety disorders. Its origins lie with Edmund Jacobson, 1934a, Jacobson, 1934b, Jacobson, 1938, Jacobson, 1964, Jacobson, 1967, Jacobson, 1970, who developed the method of progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). Since the 60s PMR has had massive success in therapeutics and just these last two years during the height of the Covid 19 pandemic it holds a crucial role as all confirmed patients need to be treated in isolation due to strong infectivity. According to clinical observation, anxiety and sleep disturbances increased significantly after isolation treatment. Some sleep-promoting drugs may have respiratory depression, and the new coronary virus mainly affects lung tissue, and the use of drugs may increase respiratory depression. Therefore, we use asymptotic muscle relaxation training to alleviate the anxiety and improve sleep quality of patients with COVID-19. This training can be performed remotely and multiple times after one training session, without directly facing the patient, reducing doctor-patient contact and reducing medical infection risk.

 

How Does Progressive Muscle Relaxation Work?


PMR works by systematically tensing and then relaxing specific muscle groups in the body. This process helps release physical tension and promotes a state of relaxation. By intentionally tensing the muscles and then letting go, individuals can increase their awareness of the sensations associated with muscle tension and relaxation. Through regular practice, they become more skilled at recognizing and releasing tension, both in their muscles and in their minds.


While the effects of PMR on the body are clear, it’s effects on the brain are shrouded in unseen mystery. Luckily science has taught us that PMR gradually decreases activity in the superior frontal gyrus (SFG), inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). In a study done in 2016 which aimed to study the brain activity associated with PMR, the region of interest (ROI) analysis, interactions between sessions were observed in the putamen, anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), postcentral gyrus (PCG), and insula. Their findings concluded that based on the effects of PMR, even novices may be able to induce a focused mental state.

 

 

The Benefits of Progressive Muscle Relaxation


  • Stress Reduction: PMR is highly effective in reducing stress. By consciously releasing muscle tension, individuals can experience a profound sense of calmness and relaxation. This relaxation response helps counteract the physiological and psychological effects of stress, promoting overall well-being.


  • Improved Sleep Quality: Many individuals struggle with sleep difficulties due to stress or anxiety. PMR can be particularly beneficial for improving sleep quality. By practicing PMR before bedtime, individuals can relax their muscles and create a more conducive environment for restful sleep, leading to better sleep quality and increased energy levels.


  • Anxiety Management: PMR is a valuable tool for managing anxiety. By engaging in this relaxation technique, individuals can experience a reduction in anxiety symptoms and an improvement in overall mood. PMR promotes a sense of tranquility and helps individuals feel more grounded and centered in the present moment.


  • 4. Physical Discomfort Relief: PMR can provide relief from physical discomfort, such as chronic pain, tension headaches, and muscle tension. By consciously relaxing the muscles, individuals can experience a decrease in physical discomfort and an improvement in their overall well-being. This can enhance their quality of life and enable them to engage in activities they may have previously avoided due to pain or discomfort.


  • Portability and Accessibility: One of the great advantages of PMR is its portability and accessibility. It can be practiced anywhere and at any time, requiring no special equipment. Whether it's during a break at work, before a stressful event, or at home in the evening, PMR can be a convenient tool to promote relaxation and relieve tension.


  • Complementary Therapy: PMR can be used as a complementary therapy alongside other relaxation techniques or treatments. It can enhance the effectiveness of other stress management strategies such as deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, or yoga. By combining different techniques, individuals can tailor their relaxation practice to their specific needs and preferences.


How to Practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation


1. Find a comfortable position: Sit or lie down in a quiet and comfortable space where you won't be disturbed for 10-15 minutes.


2. Begin with deep breathing: Take a few deep breaths in and out to relax your body and mind.


3. Start tensing and releasing muscles: Start with one muscle group, such as your fists. Clench your fists tightly for about five seconds, then release and let go completely. Pay attention to the difference between tension and relaxation.


4. Move through the muscle groups: Progressively move through different muscle groups, such as biceps, forehead, neck, shoulders, and so on. Tense each muscle group for about five seconds, then release and relax.


5. Repeat and deepen: Repeat the process for each muscle group, gradually reducing the intensity of tension with each repetition. This helps build awareness of tension in the body and improves the ability to differentiate between tension and relaxation.


6. Sync breathing and movement: As you tense a muscle group, breathe in deeply, and as you release the tension, breathe out slowly. This rhythmic pattern of breathing and movement enhances the feeling of relaxation throughout the body.


7. Customize your practice: Once you become familiar with PMR, you can customize the practice to suit your needs. You may choose to focus on specific muscle groups or shorten the practice by selecting a few key muscle groups to tense and release.

 

Precautions and Considerations

  • While PMR is generally safe and beneficial for most individuals, it is important to consider the following precautions:

  • If you have any pre-existing medical conditions or injuries, consult with a healthcare professional before practicing PMR.

  • Avoid overexertion or strain: It is essential to create only a little bit of tension in each muscle group. Straining or excessively tensing the muscles can lead to discomfort or injury.

  • Do not hold your breath: Remember to breathe naturally throughout the practice. Avoid holding your breath while tensing or releasing the muscles.

  • Modify as needed: If any exercise causes discomfort or pain, reduce the intensity of the contraction or skip that particular muscle group entirely.

  • Practice consistency: Like any skill, PMR may require regular practice to fully experience its benefits. Be patient and persistent in your practice.

 

Conclusion


Progressive Muscle Relaxation is an incredibly powerful technique for relaxation and stress reduction. By systematically tensing and releasing different muscle groups, individuals can release physical tension, promote relaxation, and experience a range of benefits for their overall well-being. Whether it's for stress reduction, improved sleep, anxiety management, or physical discomfort relief, PMR offers a versatile and accessible tool for cultivating relaxation in both the mind and body.


Remember, if you have any concerns or specific health conditions, it's always best to consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new relaxation or stress management technique.

 

REFERENCES:


  1. Ansgar Conrad, Walton T. Roth, Muscle relaxation therapy for anxiety disorders: It works but how?, Journal of Anxiety Disorders, Volume 21, Issue 3, 2007, Pages 243-264, ISSN 0887-6185, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.janxdis.2006.08.001.

  2. Martha S. McCallie BSW , Claire M. Blum RN & Charlaine J. Hood (2006) Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 13:3, 51-66, DOI: 10.1300/J137v13n03_04

  3. Kai Liu, Ying Chen, Duozhi Wu, Ruzheng Lin, Zaisheng Wang, Liqing Pan, Effects of progressive muscle relaxation on anxiety and sleep quality in patients with COVID-19, Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, Volume 39, 2020, 101132, ISSN 1744-3881, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ctcp.2020.101132.

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