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Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Written by Kelsie Goller, MA, LPC-S, RPT; Clinical Director, KPS

Progressive Muscle Relaxation (also called “progressive relaxation”) is a technique that can be used to help with anxiety, panic attacks, or sleeplessness. Originally developed in the 1920s, this technique is practiced in a variety of ways, but the essential components are progressively tensing and relaxing major muscle groups in order to relax the body. When we consciously relax our bodies, that can also help to “relax” our minds. Studies with progressive relaxation have also demonstrated its ability to reduce migraine frequency and effectively help in managing chronic pain, such as with arthritis.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation can be practiced while lying down to help with falling asleep or while sitting upright in a comfortable seat. Deep, steady breathing throughout the process will assist with the muscle relaxation, and it is important to tense the muscle groups only as much as feels comfortable in order to avoid injury. You may engage any major muscle groups, according to the areas of tension you most commonly experience, and the progression can move from either toes to head or head to toes. The muscle groups generally targeted include: forehead (raise eyebrows), eyes (squeeze shut), jaw (clench), tongue (press to top of mouth), lips (press together), shoulders (raise towards ears), lower back (arch back), triceps (extend arms), biceps (grip shoulders), fists (squeeze hands into fists), thighs (gently press knees together), shins (extend legs), and toes (curl under).

Click on the video above or access it here:


McCallie, M. S., Blum, C. M., & Hood, C. J. (2006). Progressive muscle relaxation. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 13(3), 51–66.

Meyer, B., Keller, A., Wöhlbier, H. G., Overath, C. H., Müller, B., & Kropp, P. (2016). Progressive muscle relaxation reduces migraine frequency and normalizes amplitudes of contingent negative variation (CNV). The journal of headache and pain, 17, 37.

Mirgain, S.A., & Singles, J. (2016). Progressive muscle relaxation. Whole Health Library.


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