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Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a deep relaxation technique which uses the idea of tensing and then releasing different muscle groups in order to reduce tension and stress, and is extremely useful as a tool for managing dental anxiety and needle phobia. It is based on the idea that tension exists in the body in response to stress, and releasing this tension can help to relax the body and the mind.

PMR involves tensing and then releasing different muscle groups in a systematic order, usually going from the toes up to the head. During each exercise, you should tense the muscles for 5-10 seconds, then release and relax the muscles for 20-30 seconds. You’ll want to pay attention to the sensation of tension and the sensation of relaxation, focusing on the contrast between the two.

As you progress through the exercises, you should begin to feel more and more relaxed. You may also notice that your muscles feel less tense and your breathing slows down. This is a sign that you’re successfully practicing PMR and your body is beginning to relax.

Many people find practicing PMR during local anaesthetic and during dental treatment to drastically improve their ability to overcome feelings of dental anxiety. There's benefits outside the dentist, too. Other benefits of PMR include reducing stress, anxiety and tension; increasing physical and emotional relaxation; and improving overall wellbeing. It can also help to reduce pain, improve sleep, and reduce the symptoms of certain conditions such as high blood pressure.

It’s important to remember that PMR should not be used as a substitute for professional medical care. However, it can be a useful tool to practice on your own, at home, in order to reduce stress and tension in your body.


Jacobson’s progressive muscle-relaxation technique: Step-by-step instruction

  • Gently breathe in – hold – and let go.

  • Gently pull your toes up toward your knees – just a little – hold briefly – and let go. Recognize the difference

  • Press your heels into the floor – hold – and let go.

  • Pull your knees together – hold briefly – now let them drift apart a little. Be aware of the new position.

  • Squeeze your buttocks together – hold – now let go.

  • Gently pull in your tummy muscles toward your spine – hold briefly – now let go. Feel the difference.

  • Shoulders – gently pull them up toward your ears, just enough to recognise the tension – hold briefly – now let go. Recognise the new position.

  • Gently press your elbows and upper arms to the sides of your body – hold for a moment – now let go.

  • Hands – gently clench – hold – and let go.

  • Push your head forward slightly – hold briefly – now let your head go back to a balanced position. Feel the difference.

  • Grit your teeth together – hold briefly – now let your jaw sag slightly. Feel the difference.

  • Lips – press together – now let go until hardly touching. Purse your lips – now let go and feel the difference.

  • Press your tongue briefly to the roof of your mouth – hold – and let it drop loosely. Feel the new position. Eyes – screw them up a little – hold – and let go.

  • Forehead – frown a little – hold – now let go.

Note: Adapted from Jacobson’s progressive relaxation technique. Published by Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust (leaflet 2926/VER2). Date published: January 2016; Review date: January 2019.121


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