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  • Writer's pictureMonica Pandey

Relaxation Therapy for Pain Management

As pain and emotions share similar pathways, the perception of pain can be altered by focusing on the emotions experienced. Thus managing emotions is an effective way to manage pain. In Psychology, Relaxation Therapy refers to the technique of managing emotions and stress through relaxation exercises. The aim of this article is to enable understanding of relaxation therapy and its application to the management of chronic pain.

Relaxation refers to a state of low emotional arousal which induces a pleasant feeling of wellbeing. Stress activates the fight or flight mechanism. Over a period of time exposure to stress can cause negative effects on health due to repetitive activation of the sympathetic nervous system. Living with pain leads to changes in a person’s normal functioning and, as a consequence, pain too can cause elevated levels of stress. Thus, just as relaxation techniques are highly effective in the management of stress, they are also effective in the management of pain. While yoga and meditation have always been in prevalence in the Eastern countries, psychology saw a lot of work in the area of relaxation techniques in the early 1900s.

Dr Edmund Jacobson was a pioneer with his book Progressive Relaxation, which was a technical work intended for doctors and scientists, followed by another book, You Must Relax, which was intended for the general public. Progressive Relaxation is a popular and effective technique to achieve a relaxed state. It is based on the theory that anxiety is characterized by muscular tension, thus to achieve the opposite effect one must focus on muscular relaxation. In this form of treatment, patients are taught to focus on certain muscle groups and simultaneously tense and relax them. The focused attention is very important in this technique. These sessions are not self sessions but are conducted under the guidance of a professional therapist.

As an extension of progressive relaxation, biofeedback training is another technique which also comes under the umbrella of relaxation therapy. In this technique, relaxation is enabled with the help of biofeedback devices. Biofeedback involves focusing on the body’s reaction to stress as measured by biological indicators such as heart rate, pulse, breathing etc. With the easy availability of modern day devices, psychologists teach patients to use even daily use devices such as smart watches to monitor stress and anxiety response and reverse it to achieve the opposite effect. Thus, activation of the parasympathetic nervous system by conscious slowing down of body processes is taught to achieve a calmer state.

The simplest relaxation technique is deep breathing or abdominal breathing. This is a technique which can be practiced anytime and anywhere. Patients are taught to breathe deeply through the abdomen, hold and release. Even this conscious act of breathing holds immense power to instantly transport the body into a calm state.

A lot of research has been conducted into these techniques. As a matter of fact, relaxation therapy has high application in pain management as these relaxation techniques are known to increase the oxygen flow thus improving metabolism and thereby reducing muscle spasms and the associated pain. Several studies can be cited which have established this. A 2002 study by Paula and Carvalho established that Progressive Relaxation has positive results in the reduction of post operative pain in patients. In 2019, a study was conducted by Shariat et al to study the impact of exercise and relaxation therapy on chronic lower back pain in office goers. The study found reduction in pain intensity, an improvement in Quality of Life and Range of Motion in the experimental groups who received exercise and relaxation therapy. Thus, it can be clearly established that this is a form of psychotherapy that is very beneficial to pain patients.

There’s a proverb that goes, “Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are.” It is very apt in today’s times with high stress levels and modern day challenges. If you add living with pain to the equation, then more than ever the need of relaxation and learning relaxation the right way. Thus, to summarize, Relaxation Training is a must try form of treatment to manage pain.

So, while you reflect upon this article and decide when to book a therapy session, here are some quick relaxation tips for you to start practicing.

  1. Breathe slowly and deeply – Practice conscious breathing a couple of times a day. The breath holds the power to transform. So breathe slowly and deeply, hold for four counts and release. Repeat five to ten times.

  2. Imagine a beautiful place – Our senses also have the power to calm us instantly. So imagine a beautiful place. Focus on all the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings. Do this daily for five to ten minutes.

  3. Pay attention to body processes – Use a smart device or an app to track heart rate, pulse and consciously take the effort to keep it at balanced levels.

  4. Talk positive to yourself –Thoughts and positive feelings go hand in hand, so focus on positive thoughts to feel positive and relaxed.

  5. Light a perfumed candle – A pleasant fragrance can help you relax instantly. So light a pleasant candle and sit in peace for five minutes focusing on the present moment.

Try these easy tips. While these will help you greatly, do consider therapy! Remember, relaxation is the key to finding calm in the chaos and, with help, you can master it, so REACH OUT!

I leave you with that thought and welcome your comments on the same.

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