Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR for short) is a relaxation procedure. It is also called progressive muscle relaxation (PME), progressive relaxation (PR) or deep muscle relaxation. Different muscle groups are deliberately tensed very consecutively; then the tension is released, while the reactions in the body are carefully observed all the time.
The PMR is used for both physical and psychological complaints. For example, it can help with chronic pain, sleep disorders or an anxiety disorder.
This relaxation method is scientifically recognized based on many studies that prove its effectiveness. Therefore, health insurance companies usually cover the cost of a course for learning progressive muscle relaxation.
The process of progressive muscle relaxation was developed in 1929 by the American doctor Edmund Jacobson (1888 - 1983) after researching this field at Harvard University for around twenty years. Jacobson found that stress, anxiety and nervousness go hand in hand with increased muscle tension. This will shorten the muscle fibers, which can lead to tension. For example, he observed that patients who were very nervous or stressed unconsciously contracted their muscles. Frequently recurring muscle tension of this type led to headaches and migraines, for example. Edmund Jacobson concluded from this that this connection also exists the other way around: The conscious relaxation of muscles leads to a physical and psychological relaxation. His research results confirmed this theory.
In the early days of PMR, this technique was extremely time consuming and difficult to learn because it consisted of countless instructions. Back then, more than fifty practice sessions were needed to master them safely. However, the method has been developed and simplified over the years. In the meantime, progressive muscle relaxation can be learned by just about anyone in just a few hours. This relaxation technique has been approved by the statutory health insurance company since 1987 and is an integral part of the accompanying treatment of many psychosomatic disorders.
Edmund Jacobson found that conscious muscle relaxation affects the central nervous system. Its activity is thereby reduced. For example, blood pressure drops, the heart beats slower and breathing calms down. Regular exercise of progressive muscle relaxation can also alleviate physical symptoms of stress such as excessive sweating or increased bowel activity. The exercises make you feel less nervous, increased irritability diminishes. In acute stressful situations, you feel less fear and feel more relaxed and balanced when used regularly in everyday life. Even chronic sleep disorders and chronic pain can be alleviated with the help of progressive muscle relaxation or even disappear completely.
There are now many clinical studies on the positive effects of PMR. Most statutory health insurance companies offer progressive muscle relaxation as a treatment or prevention measure. This relaxation method is also used successfully in clinics and medical practices for the accompanying treatment of many mental and physical illnesses.
Jacobson's progressive muscle relaxation consists of five phases of exercise: feel it, tense it up, hold tension, let go and feel it.
The practitioner first begins by concentrating on a specific muscle group, which is known as “feeling”. At first, this is not easy for everyone. But the more often you train, the better this exercise works. Feeling is about observing exactly what is happening in the respective body area and what sensations are perceptible there. For example, tingling, heaviness, or warmth.
Then the selected muscle group is tensed. It should be noted that the tension is not too violent, but can be felt well. This state is held for five to ten seconds, with the practitioner concentrating on the tense muscle area all the time. After this period of tension, relaxation follows. At the same time, attention is still focused on the muscle area that has just been worked on.
It starts with the muscles of the right hand. Then you work your way across your arms, face, neck and back to your stomach. Finally, the muscle groups of the legs and feet follow.
PMR does not work with self-suggestion, such as autogenic training, but requires the user to consciously perceive body sensations; It is therefore similar in parts to mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR).
The success of the PMR grows with frequent exercise units, which should best be completed daily. The muscle relaxation can be carried out as a short relaxation with only a few muscle groups or with all muscle areas in a longer exercise phase. In the beginning, you should plan more time for it, later a few minutes several times a day are enough to achieve the relaxation effect in a targeted and conscious manner over time. You shouldn't put pressure on yourself, but give yourself some time to learn this new method. Do not be disappointed if there is no immediate relaxation, but take it easy. Once the method has been learned and well practiced, it should be possible to sense existing tensions in the body within a few seconds and to dissolve them solely through the learned feeling of relaxation. It is then no longer necessary to tense the corresponding muscles.
The progressive muscle relaxation can be done while lying or sitting as well as standing. So it can be used in everyday life almost at any time. In the beginning, training is usually done lying down, since this is the position in which most people can quickly achieve deep relaxation. Once the sequence of relaxation techniques has been internalized, it can also be carried out while sitting or standing.
The basic principle of tension and relaxation
Deep muscle relaxation is about carefully feeling into the body, consciously aware of tension and relaxation of various muscle groups and the associated sensations such as warmth, heaviness or tingling. The patient learns to perceive tension early and to do something about it actively.
To do this, the practitioner assumes a comfortable posture, while sitting, lying or standing, at will and according to the progress of the exercise. For example, it starts with the right fist. This is concentrated for about five to ten seconds. The tension should be experienced consciously by concentrating fully on the muscle area. A healthy “mediocrity” is learned. This means that there should be no cramping or excessive exertion. After the tension is released. Relaxation occurs. This should also be experienced consciously and in a concentrated manner.
In this way, the most diverse parts of the body are successively placed in tension and relaxation. The progressive muscle relaxation can be used for the quick, short relaxation process, but also for tensing and relaxing up to eighteen muscle groups, depending on the situation and the available time frame.
Progressive muscle relaxation is used for a wide variety of diseases and ailments. So it has proven itself for neck tension, tension in the shoulder area, back pain as well as for headaches and migraines. It is used for the accompanying treatment of, for example, ringing in the ears (tinnitus), sudden hearing loss, irritable bowel and irritable stomach, hypertension (high blood pressure) and hormonal disorders. Progressive muscle relaxation can also be used to achieve good results for stress, anxiety, nervousness, inner restlessness, a non-organic racing heart and the like.
PMR is often used for diseases with a pronounced psychological component, even for serious mental illnesses, such as psychosis. However, the accompaniment of an experienced therapist is imperative here.
The muscle relaxation technique increases performance and has proven itself for many people with difficulty concentrating and fear of exams. Especially nowadays, in which the pupils have to withstand enormous pressure to perform even in elementary school, the use of progressive muscle relaxation is a helpful tool for everyday use. Since it is quick and easy to learn, children can already benefit from this relaxation method. After long practice, it can even be used successfully in a noisy classroom, for example immediately before a test.
When should progressive muscle relaxation not be used?
The PMR may be disregarded in acute disease stages. This applies, for example, to a migraine attack that is already beginning. If you suffer from low blood pressure (hypotension), you should consult your family doctor before using progressive muscle relaxation, as this relaxation method lowers blood pressure. Even with muscle diseases, you should ask your doctor in advance whether the PMR is suitable for you. (sw, kh)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Susanne Waschke, Barbara Schindewolf-Lensch
- Gerd Helmer: Progressive muscle relaxation according to Edmund Jacobson, burnout and stress, Springer Link 2008, link.springer.com
- Friedrich Hainbuch: Progressive Muscle Relaxation, Gräfe Und Unzer (GU) 2014
- Dr. Rainer Doubrawa: Progressive Relaxation - more recent research results on clinical efficacy 2006, empirungswert-gesundheit.de
- B. Meyer, A. Keller, B. Müller, H.-G. Wöhlbier, P. Kropp: Progressive muscle relaxation according to Jacobson for migraine prophylaxis, Springer Link, Manual Medicine 2019, link.springer.com
- CS Weber, M Rudat, R von Seckendorff, J Kondschag, B Girresch, FH Perschel, HC Deter: Stress reduction through progressive muscle relaxation - effects on salivary cortisol, Thieme Verlag 2007, thieme-connect.com
- Sven Schmauder: Progressive muscle relaxation. A course concept: Beginners course - 8 units, Grin Verlag 2012