Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation technique that engages both the mind and the body to achieve a state of relaxation. By tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups from head to toe, PMR teaches you what a tense muscle feels like, and what a relaxed muscle feels like. The thinking is that when the body is relaxed, the mind follows. Scripts and tapes that walk you through PMR can be purchased online.
Be sure to let your injury and pain level be your guide when tensing involved muscle groups. And as always, be sure to check with your doctor if you have any questions about your ability to perform PMR.
Start by finding a quiet environment and lie on your back. Do not cross your arms or legs. Use a deep breathing deep breathing exercise for a few minutes to relax, and you are ready to begin. You will tense a muscle group for 5 seconds and then relax that same muscle group completely for 30 seconds. It is the contrast between tense and relaxed muscles that is important to learn to recognize so that you realize when you are holding tension in your body throughout the day.
The following sequence is adapted from Coaches Guide to Sport Psychology, by Rainer Martens, published by Human Kinetics in 1987:
- Hands, forearms, and biceps: Make tight fists and press your elbows down and into your sides.
- Face: Lift your eyebrows as high as possible. Squint, and wiggle your nose. Clench your teeth, and pull the corners of your mouth back.
- Neck: Pull your chin down to touch your chest while resisting the same action.
- Chest, shoulders, upper back, abdomen: Take a deep breath and hold it, while pulling your shoulders back and together. Pull your stomach in and hold it.
- Upper leg/thigh, lower leg/calf, feet: Extend and slightly lift your leg and hold it. Flex your foot and pull your toes toward your head and hold. Point your toes, turn your foot inward, and curl your toes. Repeat with other leg.
- Focus on feelings of relaxation throughout the exercise.
To start, try to practice at least once a day for a week. You can keep track of your heart rate and tension level before and after PMR to measure your progress.