Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is often used as an aid to stress management. And, done in bed before you go to sleep, it can be an aid to a sound night’s sleep.
Going through your body’s entire group of muscles—tensing, relaxing, and focusing on the changes—will take about 12 to 15 minutes. If it takes less than that, you are moving at a non-relaxing speed. These exercises will provide the most benefit if you do them twice a day. If there are some muscle groups that you cannot work with comfortably, skip them.
If you have significant spasticity in some muscles, strongly tensing those muscle groups could trigger a spasm. You may want to speak with a physical therapist or other MS health professional about ways to work in a more comfortable way.
Many people, especially those with cognitive problems, find that the exercises are easier to do along with a prerecorded tape. You can prepare the tape yourself or ask someone with a relaxing voice to do it for you.
You will work with each of 17 muscle groups in a specific order. Tense, but don’t strain each muscle group. Hold the tense position for the slow count of five, paying attention to the way those muscles feel. Relax the muscles—letting them go totally limp. Focus for a count of five on how the muscles feel when relaxed.
To prepare for the exercise, wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing, remove glasses or contact lenses, and sit up in a chair without crossing your legs or arms. You may also do this lying down in bed.
1. Clench both hands. Focus on how your hands feel and how the tension moves into the forearms. Relax. Notice what the muscles in your hands and forearms feel like now.
2. Touch your fingers to your shoulders. Raise your arms level with your shoulders. Focus on the tension in your biceps and upper arms. Relax and focus on the change in feeling.
3. Shrug your shoulders, raising them as high as possible. Focus on the tension in your shoulders. Relax and focus on the change.
4. Wrinkle your forehead. Notice where tension occurs—around your eyes and forehead. Relax and focus on the change.
5. Close your eyes tightly. Focus on the tension. Relax and focus on the change.
6. Clench your teeth. Focus on the tension in your jaw and, mouth, and chin. Relax and focus on the change.
7. Press as much of your tongue as possible onto the roof of your mouth. Focus on the tension in your mouth and throat. Relax and focus on the change.
8. Move your head slowly backwards as far as you comfortably can, keeping your shoulders level. Focus on the tension in your neck and upper back. Relax and focus on the change.
9. Pull your head forward, down onto your chest. Focus on the tension in your neck, shoulders, and upper back. Relax and focus on the change.
(Note: If you experience Lhermitte’s sign—an electrical-like shock—in your spine when you tip your neck forward, skip this step.)
10. Move away from the back of your chair, arch your back and push your arms upward. Focus on the tension in your back and shoulders. Relax and focus on the change.
11. Fill your lungs with air and hold the breath. Focus on the tension in your chest and back. Exhale all the way, relax and focus on the change.
12. Pull your stomach as far back toward your spine as you can. Focus on the tension in your stomach muscles and changes in your breathing. Relax and focus on the change.
13. Without pulling your stomach in, tense your stomach muscles. Focus on the tension. Relax and focus on the change.
14. Tense the muscles in your buttocks. Focus on the tension. Relax and focus on the change.
15. Flex your thigh muscles by straightening your legs or tensing the muscles. Focus on the tension. Relax and focus on the change.
16. Lift your feet off of the ground. Point your toes up, your heels down. Focus on the tension in your feet, ankles, and calves. Lower your feet, relax, and focus on the change.
17. Lift your feet slightly and curl your toes all the way down. Focus on the tension on the top of your feet and in your arches. Lower your feet, relax, and focus on the change.
After you have learned to be aware of tension in all 17 muscle groups, you may want to focus only on those groups that give you the most trouble. Tense and relax those groups—often the jaw, neck, and stomach—several times during the day. Check your “high tension” muscle groups from time to time to judge how relaxed you are.