Health and Wellness

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Last updated on January 21st, 2023 at 12:03 pm

Progressive muscle relaxation is an effective way to relax muscles and reduce stress.

Progressive muscle relaxation is one of the most popular relaxation methods used by people around the world. It has been proven to be very beneficial for both physical and mental health.

What is progressive muscle relaxation?

Progressive muscle relaxation or PMR was created by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the 1920s. It was based on the theory that physical relaxation can promote mental relaxation.

Jacobson found you can relax a muscle by tensing and then releasing it. He also discovered that doing so can relax the mind.

PMR provides a framework for achieving this state of relaxation. It requires you to work in one muscle group at a time. This allows you to notice the tension in that specific area.

It’s also essential to tense each muscle group before relaxing. This action emphasises the sense of relaxation in the area.

What is PMR?

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique. It involves tensing and then relaxing your muscles, one by one. This helps you release physical tension, which may ease stress and anxiety.

Research has shown that PMR offers a range of benefits, including pain relief and better sleep. It may also reduce migraine attacks, systolic blood pressure, and TMJ symptoms.

You can do PMR in the comfort of your own home. Practise the technique regularly for the best results. Over time, it may help you feel more relaxed and mentally calmer.

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Progressive muscle relaxation benefits

There’s plenty of evidence behind the health benefits of Progressive muscle relaxation. Let’s inspect what research has discovered about the benefits of this technique.

  • Reduces anxiety and tension

Anxiety relief is one of the major benefits of progressive muscle relaxation. This includes generalised anxiety disorder or anxiety because of a stressful situation.

A 2019 study of 50 unemployed individuals found progressive muscle relaxation reduced symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress. It improved feelings of well-being and quality of life.

Also, a 2020 study found that progressive muscle relaxation may help reduce anxiety in people with COVID-19, suggesting the benefits of coping with difficult situations.

  • Improves sleep

Because progressive muscle relaxation induces relaxation, it may also help you get better sleep.

In a 2020 study, researchers tested progressive muscle relaxation on 80 burn patients. These patients often experience acute anxiety and poor sleep quality because of their physical and psychological conditions.

The patients were divided into two groups. One group did progressive muscle relaxation for 20 to 30 minutes a day, 3 days in a row. The other group just received routine care and treatment.

After 3 days, the researchers determined that the patients who did progressive muscle relaxation showed a significant decrease in anxiety and an improvement in sleep quality compared to the group who only received routine care.

  • Eases neck pain

If you carry tension in your neck or shoulders, you might experience neck pain. It’s a common condition that’s often associated with mental and emotional stress.

According to a 2013 study, progressive muscle relaxation may help reduce symptoms of chronic nonspecific neck pain. In doing so, it may also improve quality of life and physical function.

  • Reduces low back pain

Low back pain is another common condition. It has many potential causes, but stress can make it worse.

A 2018 study found that 8 weeks of progressive muscle relaxation may help decrease chronic low back pain.

Another 2014 study discovered that progressive muscle relaxation, accompanied by music, can decrease low back pain in pregnant women.

  • Improves systolic blood pressure

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, increases your risk for heart disease and stroke. Stress can worsen the condition, but progressive muscle relaxation may help.

In a 2019 study, progressive muscle relaxation with music therapy improved systolic blood pressure in older adults.

A study was done in 2018, which used progressive muscle relaxation by itself, also found that it could improve systolic blood pressure in adults with high blood pressure.

In both studies, however, it didn’t seem to influence diastolic blood pressure.

  • Decreases the frequency of migraine attacks

Migraine is a neurological condition that causes intense pain in your face and head. Migraine attacks can be triggered by stress, including normal stressors.

According to a 2016 study, progressive muscle relaxation can decrease the frequency of migraine episodes. The researchers believe it helps by balancing levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that’s often low in people with migraines.

  • Reduces temporomandibular joint symptoms

Emotional stress can cause temporomandibular joint (TMJ) disorder, a condition that leads to stiffness and locking of the jaw.

A 2019 study found that the calming effect of progressive muscle relaxation may help reduce TMJ symptoms. The study’s participants experienced less intense pain and tension after practicing the technique.

How to do progressive muscle relaxation?

Progressive muscle relaxation is a simple technique to do at home. You don’t need any special equipment or gear. All you need is a focus, attention, and a quiet spot where you won’t be distracted.

The key with this technique is to tense each muscle group and hold for 5 seconds. Then you exhale as you let your muscles fully relax for 10 to 20 seconds before you move on to the next muscle group.

  • Set aside 15 to 20 minutes for progressive muscle relaxation. Do it in a quiet, comfortable area.
  • Turn off your phone to avoid distractions.
  • Avoid holding your breath, which can cause more tension. Inhale deeply when you tense your muscles and exhale fully when you relax.
  • Move-in a sequence that works for you. For example, you can start at your head if you want to, and move down your body.
  • Wear loose, lightweight clothing.
  • Practice progressive muscle relaxation even when you’re feeling calm, especially in the beginning. This will make it easier to learn the method.

It may help to listen to a progressive muscle relaxation recording. This way, you can follow the steps without constantly thinking about the instructions.

Here’s where you can find guided audio recordings:

  • YouTube
  • wellness or meditation podcasts
  • mobile apps

A mental health professional, such as a therapist, can also guide you through this relaxation technique.

Progressive muscle relaxation steps

Find a quiet place free from distractions. Lie on the floor or recline in a chair, loosen any tight clothing, and remove glasses or contacts. Rest your hands in your lap or on the arms of the chair. Take a few slow, even breaths. If you have not already, spend a few minutes practising diaphragmatic breathing.

Now, focus your attention on the following areas, being careful to leave the rest of your body relaxed.

  1. Forehead: Squeeze the muscles in your forehead, holding for 15 seconds. Feel the muscles becoming tighter and tenser. Then, slowly release the tension in your forehead while counting for 30 seconds. Notice the difference in how your muscles feel as you relax. Continue to release the tension until your forehead feels completely relaxed. Breathe slowly and evenly.
  2. Jaw: Tense the muscles in your jaw, holding for 15 seconds. Then release the tension slowly while counting for 30 seconds. Notice the feeling of relaxation, and continue to breathe slowly and evenly.
  3. Neck and shoulders: Increase tension in your neck and shoulders by raising your shoulders up toward your ears and hold for 15 seconds. Slowly release the tension as you count for 30 seconds. Notice the tension melting away.
  4. Arms and hands: Slowly draw both hands into fists. Pull your fists into your chest and hold for 15 seconds, squeezing as tight as you can. Then slowly release while you count for 30 seconds. Notice the feeling of relaxation.
  5. Buttocks: Slowly increase tension in your buttocks over 15 seconds. Then, slowly release the tension over 30 seconds. Notice the tension melting away. Continue to breathe slowly and evenly.
  6. Legs: Slowly increase the tension in your quadriceps and calves over 15 seconds. Squeeze the muscles as hard as you can. Then gently release the tension over 30 seconds. Notice the tension melting away and the feeling of relaxation that is left.
  7. Feet: Slowly increase the tension in your feet and toes. Tighten the muscles as much as you can. Then slowly release the tension while you count for 30 seconds. Notice all the tension melting away. Continue breathing slowly and evenly.

Enjoy the feeling of relaxation sweeping through your body. Continue to breathe slowly and evenly.


Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation or PMR can be helpful for mild to moderate social anxiety, or when practised alongside traditional treatment such as cognitive-behavioural therapy or medication. However, if you live with severe untreated social anxiety, it is important to consult with a doctor or other mental health professional to get suitable treatment.

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Reference: Healthline

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