Progressive Muscle Relaxation: The Science Behind Its Pain-Relieving Powers

Progressive Muscle Relaxation: The Science Behind Its Pain-Relieving Powers


Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a non-invasive technique. It helps to reduce physical and mental stress. This technique has been around for over 80 years! It is based on tensing and then releasing muscle groups. This can reduce underlying tension and improve wellbeing.

Let’s explore the science behind PMR. Also, how it can help with pain relief!

Definition of Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a technique to help people relax. It was developed in 1920s by American physician Edmund Jacobson. He noticed that alternating between tight and relaxed muscles could relieve tension.

PMR involves tensing and releasing muscle groups. Start with muscles in your feet or toes, and work your way up to neck and shoulders. Pay attention to how it feels before and after releasing the tension. As you go through the practice, try to observe your body objectively and without judgment. This will help the tension to leave your body.

Benefits of Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a popular relaxation technique for reducing stress, relieving pain and improving wellbeing. Unlike yoga and meditation, it does not require specific poses or mantras. It simply involves tensing and relaxing muscles throughout the body. The process helps reconnect our body and mind.

PMR can reduce physical and psychological symptoms of stress, like mood swings and sleep troubles. It gives us a balanced body and better health outcomes, with improved quality of life. Clinical studies show PMR has the following benefits:

  • Reduced tension – Controlling muscle tension decreases exaggerated reactions. We can respond intentionally, instead of impulsively.
  • Reduced stress levels – Reducing physical tension also reduces psychological tension, leading to lower stress levels.
  • Improved range of motion – Relaxing muscles that are chronically tense helps regain movement.
  • Increased confidence – Restoring flexibility boosts self-confidence.
  • Improved focus – Endorphins released during PMR create mental clarity, helping us focus on tasks at home and work.

Science Behind Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a strong way to relax and ease pain. It includes tensely and loosely tightening and loosening of muscles to lower strain in the body. This approach has been studied deeply and science has demonstrated that it brings lots of good gains, like cutting down stress and worry and boosting mental and physical wellness.

Let’s take a closer look at the science behind this practice.

How Progressive Muscle Relaxation Works

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a method to reduce stress and ease muscle tension. It involves tensing and then relaxing certain muscles in your body. You focus on the feeling of tension, but not the thoughts connected to it. The goal is to help you recognize the difference between when a muscle is contracted and when it is relaxed. This gives you a powerful tool to get rid of stress whenever you need to.

PMR was created in the 1920s by American physiologist Edmund Jacobson. He saw that feelings often create physical reactions, like tight muscles or a fast heartbeat. If you can recognize these reactions soon after they happen, it can help keep negative states from getting worse. By tensing and then consciously relaxing each muscle group, Jacobson believed it would help people recognize small changes in their muscles. This can stop further tension from happening.

PMR targets muscular tension which is a common cause of psychological distress. Tensing and releasing each muscle group gives us control over our bodies. We learn to recognize small changes before they create anxious or depressed feelings. Also, PMR reduces cortisol – the ‘stress hormone’ – which leads to better physical and mental health and emotional well-being.

Neurophysiological Benefits of Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a popular way to release tension in the body. Studies show it has many neurophysiological benefits, and can help with both short-term and long-term pain.

When we tense our muscles, more electrical signals are sent through the nervous system. This activates lots of parts in our brain, like the somatosensory cortex, primary motor cortex, thalamus, and brainstem.

Releasing muscles helps people recognize how the body feels when it’s relaxed. Doing this helps the body respond better to stress.

With regular PMR, there are long-term changes called epigenetic modifications. Rats in optogenetics studies showed synergistic modulation between endogenous μ-opioid receptors and GABAA receptors. This was due to post-transcriptional gene expression regulated by microRNAs.

These changes in the brain result in visible outcomes. Stressful events last less time and are less intense. Anxiety scales improve. Performance on cognitive tasks increases.

PMR is a reliable way to treat physical illnesses and autoimmune issues. It also helps prevent chronic illness. Positive choices have big effects on health. PMR is an important tool in understanding this.

Steps of Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation is a common approach for decreasing stress and easing pain. It requires tensing and then releasing various muscle groups in your body. This helps to decrease muscular tension and can, as a result, decrease physical and emotional stress.

Here, we’ll go over how to do progressive muscle relaxation:


To prepare for progressive muscle relaxation, find a quiet and comfortable area free of distractions. Get into a relaxed position – laying down, sitting up against a bed’s headboard, or sitting in a comfortable chair with lumbar support. Wear clothes that let your muscles relax easily.

When ready, begin the practice. Take several deep breaths, focusing on your inhalation and exhalation. This will help your body relax and release tension. With practice, move to words and phrases like “relax” and “peaceful” during the exercise.

Tensing and Relaxing

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a way to reduce stress, improve sleep, increase flexibility and relieve chronic pain. It was created in the 1930s by Edmund Jacobson, an American doctor. The idea of PMR is that by becoming aware of body sensations like tension and relaxation, people can relax their muscles.

To do PMR, you tense a muscle group for a few seconds, then release the tension. You’ll feel tightness when the muscles contract, and comfort when the tension is released. Do this multiple times with different muscle groups until you feel relaxed. Movements should be slow and controlled, and you should focus on the sensations. It may take some practice to get good at it, but you can start using PMR soon after trying.

Releasing Tension

Progressive muscle relaxation is all about releasing tension in your body. You tense up specific muscle groups for a few seconds, then release them to understand the difference between tension and relaxation. This helps you to actively relax, as much as you learned to tense.

Repeat the cycle of tensing and relaxing each muscle group two to three times. You may not be able to fully relax certain muscle groups due to limits. That’s OK. Just do as many cycles as you can, before moving on to the next group. Here’s how:

  1. Neck: Hold head tightly against one shoulder then switch
  2. Shoulders: Lift up towards ears, then release
  3. Arms/Hands: Make a fist, then relax
  4. Stomach/Chest: Push outwards with both hands
  5. Legs/Feet: Press down with both feet, pull up with toes

Applications of Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR): a mind-body technique. It helps people relax by tensing and then releasing different muscle groups. This technique has many uses – clinical and non-clinical. It has been proven to reduce tension, stress, and pain. Let’s look at the applications in more detail:

  • Clinical applications
  • Non-clinical applications

Stress Relief

Progressive muscle relaxation is scientifically proven to reduce stress and pain. It involves tightening and then releasing specific muscles. Studies show it can lower the need for painkillers, reduce sleep disturbance, anxiety, depression, mental stress and physical fatigue.

Focus on your breath when practicing progressive muscle relaxation for stress relief. Take slow deep breaths as you relax each muscle group. Feel the change in tension throughout your body. This will help release any chronic tensions.

Practice this technique daily to best combat stress. It can also be used with meditation, mindfulness exercises or other forms of psychotherapy. Take time to focus on each muscle group. This will bring awareness to your body, calming your mind so you can face stressors with ease.

Anxiety Management

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a widely used technique to reduce stress, anxiety, and pain. It’s been used by mental health professionals and researchers for decades. The concept is to recognize tension in the body and relax it to reduce stress. You do this by tensing and relaxing each muscle group in succession, resulting in deep relaxation at the end of each session.

As an anxiety management tool, PMR can be useful. Research shows that muscular tension can increase perceived stress levels. People with anxiety disorders can use PMR to manage their tension and not feel threatened by minor events.

The process for PMR starts with tensing the feet and moves up to the back and head. Hold the relaxed position for five seconds, noticing sensations. Then relax each muscle in reverse order until all muscles are relaxed. This process takes 10 minutes, but can be adjusted. With practice, PMR can be a valuable tool to reduce anxiety and stress-related symptoms, such as panic attacks or depression.

Pain Relief

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a great way to relax tight muscles, reduce overall tension, reduce stress and headache symptoms, ease migraines and help manage pain for better sleep.

Start with focused breathing and clear your mind of worries. Then, pick a muscle group, like your hands or feet, and tense it. Flex as hard as you can for 5-10 seconds, and feel the tension in your body. After a deep breath, relax the muscle group for 20-30 seconds until it’s completely relaxed. Work through all nine muscle groups, and end with focused breathing.

Regular practice can help with anxiety or panic attacks. It can also help ease fibromyalgia symptoms, like tenderness when waking up due to tension areas not always released in sleep.


Progressive muscle relaxation is a great way to reduce stress. This can help with tension headaches, high blood pressure, and pain. With this guide, you’ll easily learn how to use it.

Regular practice of this technique will create a more relaxed state. This calms the body and helps it to heal, even from physical or emotional issues. It’s cost-effective and doesn’t require any special equipment or medical treatment. People of any age or health issue can use it safely to get long-lasting results.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is Progressive Muscle Relaxation?

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique developed by Dr. Edmund Jacobson in the 1920s. It involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in a systematic manner to reduce muscular tension and induce a state of deep relaxation.

2. How does PMR work?

PMR works by reducing muscular tension and inducing a state of deep relaxation. This decreases the body’s stress response, which can contribute to chronic pain. It also increases blood flow and oxygen to the muscles, which can help to reduce pain and stiffness.

3. Can PMR be used to treat chronic pain?

Yes, PMR can be used to treat chronic pain. It has been found to be effective in reducing pain and improving quality of life for people with conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic low back pain, and chronic neck pain.

4. Does PMR have any side effects?

PMR is generally considered to be safe and does not have any harmful side effects. However, some people may experience muscle soreness or fatigue after a session, especially if they are new to the technique.

5. How long does a PMR session typically last?

A PMR session typically lasts 10-20 minutes. It can be done once or twice a day, depending on the individual’s needs and schedule.

6. Is PMR a substitute for medical treatment?

No, PMR is not a substitute for medical treatment. It can be used in combination with medical treatment to help manage pain and improve quality of life.

the back recovery program by alex larsson
Jane Smith is a natural health enthusiast on a mission to uncover effective methods for achieving pain-free living. Through her personal journey with chronic back pain, she has become well-versed in holistic approaches such as yoga, Pilates, and essential oils.

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