Relaxation and Pain

Relaxation is key for pain reduction. It reduces pain levels because pain is maintained by muscle tension which sends threat messages to the brain which results in more tension and more pain. It induces the “relaxation response” which is the opposite of the stress producing flight/flight/freeze response. Relaxing is also a proven treatment for anxiety and reducing anxiety reduces pain. Relaxation is particularly helpful with headaches.

The best time to practice relaxation is when the pain is relatively low. It also takes regular practice.

Breathing is one of the best ways to relax. In “Reversing Chronic Pain” Phillips (2007) says that proper breathing is the most important skill you can learn to cope with pain and stress. You may have noticed that when you are in pain, you tend to breathe shallowly or even hold your breath.

Belly breathing (diaphragm breathing)is the most efficient breathing. Preferably practice this lying down. Place both hands on your abdomen. Breath in through the nose and out through the mouth, counting to five for the inbreath and five for the outbreath. You want your stomach to move out with the inhale and contract with the exhale. It would be helpful to practice this for three to five minutes perhaps while listening to relaxing music. Your whole body will relax and your pain should diminish.

Another way to relax with breathing is to consciously relax your muscles while repeating “Let go.” to yourself with each outbreath.

Dr. Andrew Weil has a particular method of breathing that is so relaxing it can even be used with anxiety disorders. Place the tongue on the hard palate behind the front teeth. Breathe in through the nose for four counts, hold the breath for seven counts,and breath out through the mouth with a whoosh for eight counts. He suggests doing this sequence eight times twice a day.

Patricia Kay Youngson

Patricia Kay Youngson

Article written by Patricia Kay Youngson RN, Counselor working with pain isues. E-mail:, website

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