Progressive muscular relaxation (PMR)

March 22, 2017


Progressive muscular relaxation (PMR)

Natural Standard Monograph, Copyright © 2013 (www.naturalstandard.com). Commercial distribution prohibited. This monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. You should consult with a qualified healthcare provider before making decisions about therapies and/or health conditions.

Related Terms

  • Jacobsen's relaxation technique, muscular relaxation, progressive relaxation, relaxation therapy.


  • Progressive muscular relaxation (PMR) is a type of relaxation therapy used to treat medical conditions caused by stress.

  • Muscular tension is the most common symptom of stress, and it can lead to stiffness, pain, discomfort, distorted or misaligned posture, or instability.

  • Other types of relaxation therapy that are purported to reduce stress include biofeedback, hypnosis, massage, tai chi, and yoga.


  • First a group of muscles is tensed up so they are contracted as tightly as possible. The patient then inhales with the muscles contracted and holds for 5-10 seconds. During this time, neurotransmitters release epinephrine, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine (ACh).

  • Next, the patient exhales as the muscles are relaxed to their previous state.

  • Finally, the muscles are relaxed even further so that the body is as relaxed as possible. This is typically repeated about three times.

  • Progressive muscular relaxation is sometimes used with deep breathing techniques or imagery.


  • Stress is believed to play a role in many medical conditions including, insomnia, surgery, chronic pain, and chemotherapy.

  • Many clinical trials have evaluated relaxation therapies for insomnia. Overall the scientific evidence suggests that relaxation therapies, including PMR, may be somewhat helpful for insomnia, although not dramatically so. For example, in a controlled study of 70 people with insomnia, participants using progressive relaxation showed no meaningful improvement in the time to fall asleep or the duration of sleep, but they reported feeling more rested in the morning.

Author Information

  • This information has been edited and peer-reviewed by contributors to the Natural Standard Research Collaboration (www.naturalstandard.com).


Natural Standard developed the above evidence-based information based on a thorough systematic review of the available scientific articles. For comprehensive information about alternative and complementary therapies on the professional level, go to www.naturalstandard.com. Selected references are listed below.

  1. Anderson RE, Seniscal C. A comparison of selected osteopathic treatment and relaxation for tension-type headaches. Headache. 2006 Sep;46(8):1273-80. View Abstract

  2. Espie CA, Lindsay WR, Brooks DN, et al. A controlled comparative investigation of psychological treatments for chronic sleep-onset insomnia. Behav Res Ther. 1989;27:79-88. View Abstract

  3. Grizzell, J. Progressive Muscular Relaxation. 9 May 2006. http://www.csupomona.edu

  4. Morin CM, Hauri PJ, Espie CA, et al. Nonpharmacologic treatment of chronic insomnia. Sleep. 1999;22:1134-1156.

Copyright © 2013 Natural Standard (www.naturalstandard.com)

The information in this monograph is intended for informational purposes only, and is meant to help users better understand health concerns. Information is based on review of scientific research data, historical practice patterns, and clinical experience. This information should not be interpreted as specific medical advice. Users should consult with a qualified healthcare provider for specific questions regarding therapies, diagnosis and/or health conditions, prior to making therapeutic decisions.


March 22, 2017