Relaxation

What is relaxation?

Relaxation is not just about enjoying a hobby, laying on the sofa or having a nice long bath. While it is important to relax, it is also important to learn relaxation techniques, which is different to just relaxing.

Relaxation techniques works on the principle of learning how to reduce arousal in your nervous system and calm the mind which in turn makes it easier to cope with pain.

Type of relaxation techniques

There are different types of relaxation and the common ones used in chronic pain management include deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery.

Deep breathing, being the most basic form of relaxation, simply involves taking slow and gentle deep breathes, letting your muscles go loose each time you breathe out.

Progressive muscle relaxation is a more "active" exercise compared to the rest, as it involves systematically tensing and relaxing different groups of muscle in the body. This increases your awareness about what muscle tension and relaxation feels like in different parts of the body, which in turn will help you spot and start to reduce the first signs of tension.

Imagery involves visualising and focusing on events or places that are unrelated or incompatible with pain.

How can relaxation help with chronic pain?

Relaxation is helpful and important for chronic pain patients for a number of reasons:

  • Relax muscles: Getting tense will often worsen your pain and this can lead to a cycle of pain-tension-more pain-more tension. Relaxation can help to reduce tension and stop pain from getting worse.
  • Reduce distress: Anxiety and stress can result in increased pain, thus making it harder to cope with pain. Relaxation can make you feel calm and help you to manage your pain and other stresses more successfully.
  • Help with sleep: Pain can make it difficult for people to get to sleep or for people to get back to sleep once they get awoken by pain in the middle of the night. In such instances, relaxation can help to promote sleep.

In addition to reducing tension and calming your mind, relaxation can reduce flare-ups occurrences, and reduce the intensity of the flare-up when they do happen. It is also something positive you can do, even in the middle of a severe setback.

Does relaxation work?

Relaxation is a skill that does take a bit of practice to learn. Therefore, it is important to be realistic in your expectations as it will take time to become good at relaxing especially in difficult circumstances. The more you use relaxation, the more effective it will be. Relaxation has no unpleasant side effects.

To date, there is no data supporting the idea that one method is any better than any other. In addition, the techniques can be employed singly or in combination, depending on your individual needs. In other words, there is no one best way to relax and not all relaxation techniques suit everyone. The important thing is to find a combination/s that is/are comfortable for you and to practice on a daily basis. Finding a technique that suits you and using it regularly can help you cope better and to feel more in control.

Summary

  • Relaxation means being able to reduce arousal at the physical and emotional level.
  • There are different ways of relaxing including deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation and guided imagery.
  • Relaxation is particularly important for people with chronic pain because it helps reduce tension in muscles, calms the mind and helps with sleep.
  • It is a skill that takes practice to learn.