Do you feel stressed out or tense? Progressive muscle relaxation is a technique that involves first tensing a certain muscle group in the body and then fully releasing the tension to relax the muscles. Studies have shown progressive muscle relaxation to be an effective technique that helps to reduce muscle tension, improve sleep, and reduce anxiety and stress.
In stroke rehabilitation, many clients that I work with experience anxiety during our physiotherapy sessions. Their anxiety may often limit their motivation to participate as well as contribute to increased muscle tone and pain (usually in the hemiparetic arm or leg), which makes it even more difficult to practice functional movements and exercises. As a result, I have practiced progressive muscle relaxation with many clients and most clients tell me that this becomes their go-to technique to manage stress and promote relaxation! A number of clients also mentioned that the more they practiced, the more quickly they can elicit a relaxation response whenever they needed it. If you are interested in learning how to use this technique then keep on reading this post! 🙂 Please note that this technique is effective for general stress management and for promoting relaxation (not specific to stroke rehabilitation).
Tips before trying the technique:
- Find a quiet and comfortable environment.
- Give yourself around 10-15 minutes to do this exercise.
- Take your time with each step. Don’t rush.
- Let your muscles tense and then fully relax before moving to the next muscle group.
- When first learning this technique, you can practice even when you are not feeling anxious, 1-2 times a day. As you practice more, the relaxation response will come more quickly.
Steps for progressive muscle relaxation:
- Find a comfortable position in a chair or lie on your back. Try to wear loose, comfortable clothing.
- Close your eyes and take three to four slow and deep breaths. Breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. We will start to tense and relax one muscle group at a time (Note: in this post I chose to go from the feet up but feel free to go in a different order. Just be systematic and move from one muscle group to the next).
- Starting at the feet. Squeeze the muscles in your feet and toes tight for 10 seconds. Then, slowly relax everything as you count for 15 seconds. Notice how relaxed your muscles feel. Imagine your stress and anxiety melting away as you let go of all the tension in your muscles. Continue taking slow and deep breaths.
- The calves. Squeeze your calves tight for 10 seconds. Slowly relax your calves as you count for 15 seconds. Feel all the tension and stress melt away.
- The thighs. Squeeze your thighs tight for 10 seconds. Slowly relax your thighs as you count for 15 seconds. Notice how relaxed your body feels.
- Continue your way up. Keep moving up your body with the following muscle groups:
- The buttocks
- The stomach
- The arms and hands
- The chest
- The neck and shoulders
- The jaw
- The face/forehead
When you become more familiar with the technique and want to practice a quicker version, try tensing the major muscle groups together:
- Buttocks, legs and feet
- Abdomen and chest
- Neck, shoulders and arms
- Face and jaw
I hope this post helps you relieve some of your tension! 🙂
Check out my next blog post How to: Diaphragmatic Breathing for another great relaxation technique to try!
Please read: the amount of time recommended to tense and relax your muscles is a general guideline. Feel free to tense and relax your muscles for shorter or longer periods of time based on your comfort. You should not feel any discomfort or pain. Stop if anything feels uncomfortable for you. If you are unsure or have any questions about this exercise, remember to consult a registered physiotherapist or a physician before trying them. Please visit Contact if you have any questions, comments or feedback for me.
Cheat Sheet: Instructions for Progressive Muscle Relaxation PDF
Chegeni, P. S., Gholami, M., Azargoon, A., Pour, A. H. H., Birjandi, M., & Norollahi, H. (2018). The effect of progressive muscle relaxation on the management of fatigue and quality of sleep in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: A randomized controlled clinical trial. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 31, 64-70.
Chellew, K., Evans, P., Fornes-Vives, J., Pérez, G., & Garcia-Banda, G. (2015). The effect of progressive muscle relaxation on daily cortisol secretion. Stress, 18(5), 538-544.
Cheung, Y. L., Molassiotis, A., & Chang, A. M. (2003). The effect of progressive muscle relaxation training on anxiety and quality of life after stoma surgery in colorectal cancer patients. Psycho‐Oncology, 12(3), 254-266.