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Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Learn about and practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation to reduce muscle tension, reduce stress, and enjoy mental and physical relaxation.

By Matt Olivares on Jun 16, 2024.

Fact Checked by Nate Lacson.

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Progressive Muscle Relaxation

What is Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)?

Progressive Muscle Relaxation, sometimes called PMR for short, is a relaxation exercise that involves tensing different muscle groups and gradually releasing the tensed muscles.

This relaxation technique was developed in the 20th century by American physician Edmund Jacobson, and its purpose is to help reduce stress, reduce muscle tension, manage anxiety, ease headaches and back pains, relieve insomnia, and manage high blood pressure.

Throughout this exercise, the person practicing it will tense the following muscle groups:

  • Buttock muscles
  • Shoulder muscles
  • Forehead muscles
  • Jaw muscles
  • Arm muscles
  • Eye muscles
  • Neck muscles
  • Chest muscles
  • Forearm muscles
  • Hand muscles
  • Thigh muscles
  • Calf muscles
  • Stomach muscles
  • Pelvic muscles

They will focus on one muscle group at a time, spending a few seconds on it before moving on to the next muscle group.

How to practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Those who practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation normally have a script informing them about what they should be doing at any given moment during the exercise. Some open YouTube videos, close their eyes, and follow the instructions being given by their virtual instructor.

Here’s an example of a Progressive Muscle Relaxation Script you can follow, but before you do, make sure to find a quiet spot and lie or sit down in a comfortable position. Once you're comfortable, take five slow, deep breaths and do the following:

Leg muscle groups:

  • Lift your toes upward and hold it for five seconds, then let go.
  • Pull your toes downward and hold it for five seconds, then let go.
  • Tense your calf muscles for five seconds, then let go.
  • Move your knees towards each other, then hold your position for five seconds, then let go.
  • Squeeze your thigh muscles, hold your squeezing for five seconds, and then let go.

Arm muscle groups:

  • Clench your hands and hold it for five seconds, then unclench them.
  • Tense your arms and hold the tension for five seconds, then untense your arms.

Torso muscle groups:

  • Squeeze your buttocks and hold your squeezing for five seconds, then un-squeeze them.
  • Contract your abdominal muscles and hold the contraction for five seconds, then let go.
  • Inhale and tighten your chest, hold your tightening for five seconds, then let go.

Head muscle groups:

  • Raise your shoulders to your ears, maintain the position for five seconds, then let go.
  • Purse your lips together and keep it pursed for five seconds, then let go.
  • Open your mouth wide and keep it open for five seconds, then close it.
  • Close your eyes tightly, keep them closed for five seconds, then open them.
  • Lift your eyebrows and lift them for five seconds, then let go.

Remember to breathe deeply while tensing, then exhale fully when relaxing each muscle group. Don’t hold your breath, though. After performing each bullet point, relax for 10 seconds before moving on to the next.

After practicing this a few times, knowing what a relaxed muscle feels versus a tense muscle will be second nature to you, and you get to enjoy deep relaxation and feeling calm.

What can Progressive Muscle Relaxation help treat?

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is known to be able to help with treatments for various health problems, both physical and mental, besides easing muscle tension and pain (migraines, lower back pain, chest pain, etc.).

It can help with the treatment of specific mental health conditions

It is known to reduce the symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, depression, stress, and other mental health conditions.

A study by Kyriakoula Merakou and colleagues (2019) found that Progressive Muscle Relaxation was able to whittle down the symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress in unemployed people in Greece.

Another article written by Lukas de Lorent et al. (2016)was able to determine that patients with major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders are able to enjoy the same relief that acupuncture provides when practicing Progressive Muscle Relaxation.

It can help treat insomnia

Progressive Muscle Relaxation can also be incorporated into sleep disorder treatments because it can make people feel calm and relaxed. Desi and colleagues (2019) have determined that elderly patients in a nursing home who haven’t been introduced to this relaxation technique were dealing with insomnia. After being introduced to the technique reduced the incidences of insomnia in those same patients.

It can help lower blood pressure

A person who has high blood pressure, especially if high blood pressure is a recurring thing for them, will be at risk of suffering a stroke and may even develop heart problems if not treated or managed well. One way to manage blood pressure is to practice relaxation techniques like Progressive Muscle Relaxation.

According to an article by Ida Rosdiana and Yanti Cahyati (2019), adding Progressive Muscle Relaxation as part of treatment plans that revolve around the use of anti-hypertensive drugs can yield better results when it comes to whittling down high blood pressure to normal, healthy levels.

What are the benefits of Progressive Muscle Relaxation?

Progressive Muscle Relaxation, besides being a good addition to treatment examples mentioned earlier, has the following health benefits:

It can promote body awareness to those who practice the exercise

Progressive Muscle Relaxation is an exercise that integrates a bit of mindfulness. The whole exercise focuses on tensing specific muscle groups one at a time. It requires people to tense their muscles deliberately and then relax them after a few seconds.

Those who practice this exercise will eventually become more attuned to their bodies and pay attention to the sensations they feel.

In line with mindfulness, it can also help them focus on the present moment, improving their concentration. Having an improved concentration can help them focus on their responsibilities better.

It can aid the person in managing stress and reduce anxiety and tension

By deliberately tensing and relaxing muscle groups, those who practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation will enjoy entering a relaxed, calm state and the release of physical tension in their muscles. By extension, this exercise can reduce the symptoms and severity of stress, anxiety, and PTSD episodes by easing the physical sensations that generally emerge when a person is stressed or anxious.

The less stress and anxious a person is, the lower the chance of hypertension from happening. If hypertension is prevented or managed well, then the risk of heart disease will be lower.

It can improve a person's sleep patterns

As mentioned earlier, Progressive Muscle Relaxation can be added as part of treatment plans for insomnia. Given that this exercise can induce relaxation, it would be best for those with sleeping problems to practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation before bedtime. If they’re relaxed before their bedtime, they have a better chance of falling asleep and having better sleep.

It can help reduce pain

By tensing muscles and relaxing them after a few seconds, those who have been feeling muscle aches in areas like the neck, lower back, arms, and legs will enjoy the benefit of pain relief, especially if combined with other treatments like pain relieving medication. If you feel pain in any one of your muscle groups, practicing Progressive Muscle Relaxation should lessen the pain and discomfort you feel.

Besides Progressive Muscle Relaxation, what are other examples of relaxation techniques?

Other than Progressive Muscle Relaxation, there are other awesome relaxation techniques and exercises that people can do to help calm themselves and alleviate physical and mental health symptoms associated with stress and anxiety. Here are some examples:

Deep breathing exercises

Deep breathing exercises like the 4-7-8 breathing method and diaphragmatic breathing can help a person relax, especially if they’ve just gone through something distressing and anxiety-inducing.

Deep breathing exercises can also improve a person’s lung capacity and respiratory endurance. It can also improve a person’s focus.

Autogenic training

This relaxation technique revolves around the power of the mind and how it can help us relax and calm down.

Those practicing autogenic training will engage in self-talk where they repeatedly utter phrases like “I am calm,” “My arms are warm,” “My heartbeats are normal,” and “My legs are light.” They will continue to utter these phrases to themselves until they feel calm.


This therapy involves using products (mostly essential oils) with calming and soothing scents like lavender, chamomile, and eucalyptus. The scents from these products can help reduce stress, anxiety, and agitation. It can also help alleviate migraines, fatigue, and pain and improve digestion and sleep quality.

Why use Carepatron as your health and well-being software?

Thanks for reading this guide! We hope this was an excellent introduction or refresher to Progressive Muscle Relaxation. If you decide to try this and add it to your routine exercises, then we hope the Progressive Muscle Relaxation script we showed earlier and the one for PTSD we linked help you out!

While we still have you, we’d like to ask you for your time to check more of our platform if you haven’t. We have various nifty features, and we’re confident they’re cool and helpful enough that you’ll consider us your number-one mental health EHR and therapy practice management software. We won’t detail these features here, but we’d like to highlight one related to this guide: our resource library.

Our resource library houses a massive collection of clinical and non-clinical healthcare resources, covering numerous healthcare fields, topics, and practices, especially mental health!

We have PDF files of coping skills that people can use to help them cope with stress, anxiety, PTSD, etc. For our PTSD Coping Skills PDF, we included Progressive Muscle Relaxation as part of it because it can help reduce the distress caused by PTSD episodes.

We also have guides about other relaxation techniques like autogenic training, biofeedback, guided imagery, and deep breathing exercises. What’s great about all these resources is that they’re free, so you can read as many guides as you want and download as many templates as you need!

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De Lorent, L., Agorastos, A., Yassouridis, A., Kellner, M., & Muhtz, C. (2016). Auricular Acupuncture Versus Progressive Muscle Relaxation in Patients with Anxiety Disorders or Major Depressive Disorder: A Prospective Parallel Group Clinical Trial. Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies, 9(4), 191–199.

Idris, D. N. T., & Astarani, K. (2019). Therapy of effective progressive muscle relaxation to reduce insomnia in elderly. Strada: Jurnal Ilmiah Kesehatan, 8(2), 165–171. 

Merakou, K., Tsoukas, K., Stavrinos, G., Amanaki, E., Daleziou, A., Kourmousi, N., Stamatelopoulou, G., Spourdalaki, E., & Barbouni, A. (2019). The effect of progressive muscle relaxation on emotional competence: Depression–Anxiety–Stress, Sense of Coherence, Health-Related Quality of Life, and Well-Being of Unemployed People in Greece: an intervention study. EXPLORE, 15(1), 38–46.

Rosdiana, I., & Cahyati, Y. (2019). EFFECT OF PROGRESSIVE MUSCLE RELAXATION (PMR) ON BLOOD PRESSURE AMONG PATIENTS WITH HYPERTENSION. International Journal of Advancement in Life Sciences Research, 2(1), 28–35.

Commonly asked questions

How long does it take to accomplish Progressive Muscle Relaxation?

Usually, a PMR session takes 15 to 30 minutes to accomplish.

Can Progressive Muscle Relaxation be done anywhere?

Yes. PMR doesn’t require any special equipment or space. You need a quiet spot where you can lie or sit comfortably.

How often should a person practice Progressive Muscle Relaxation?

It depends on the needs of the person. Some people practice it once daily, while others practice it to calm down after going through something distressing.

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