Listed in Issue 164


EMERY and COLLEAGUES,  Department of Psychology, Ohio State University, 145 Psychology Building, 1835 Neil Avenue, Columbus, OH 43210, USA. studied the effects of progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) in reducing pain.


Although prior studies have demonstrated effects of progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) in reducing self-reported pain, no laboratory studies have examined the effects of PMR on objective indicators of descending modulation of nociception.


This randomized controlled study utilized the nociceptive flexion reflex (NFR) to evaluate nociceptive responding among 55 college-age men and women (mean age=19.4+/-1.2 years). Participants completed laboratory assessments of NFR threshold and questionnaires evaluating pain and stress. Participants were then randomly assigned to either a 25-min PMR condition or a no-treatment control condition. Following the brief intervention, participants completed a second NFR procedure and self-report questionnaires.


Results indicated a significant time by condition interaction for NFR, with participants in the PMR condition experiencing a significant increase in NFR threshold while participants in the no-treatment condition experienced no change in NFR. Ratings of pain did not change during the study, but PMR participants reported decreased stress following the PMR intervention.


This is the first study with a randomized no-treatment control group demonstrating the effect of a brief PMR protocol on descending inhibition of nociception. Results support the efficacy of PMR in reducing nociceptive response and provide further evidence of the utility of behavioural pain management strategies.


Emery CF, France CR, Harris J, Norman G and Vanarsdalen C. Effects of progressive muscle relaxation training on nociceptive flexion reflex threshold in healthy young adults: a randomized trial. Pain. 138(2): 375-9. Aug 31 2008.

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