Return to Good Thinking About…

Good Thinking About…
Relaxation Therapies

What are Relaxation Therapies?

Relaxing image of geranium in  a pondPatients experience many alternative therapies as relaxing, e.g. meditation, hypnotherapy, autogenic training, massage, reflexology. While these therapies generate relaxation as a welcome side-effect, relaxation therapies are specifically designed to generate what is known as the ‘relaxation response’. This term describes a pattern of reactions of the autonomic nervous system producing relaxation of the body and the mind. It is reflected in changes of physiological parameters, such as reductions of brain activity, heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, etc.

Relaxation techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, visualization or imagery are practised by many alternative health practitioners, doctors, nurses, psychologists, psychotherapists or sports therapists. They are used to treat a range of conditions, including anxiety, stress, headaches, musculoskeletal pain, or they are employed to enhance physical or mental performance. The techniques are usually taught in supervised sessions; once the patient is able to elicit a relaxation response, he or she is advised to practise regularly at home. This, of course, requires time and dedication.

What is the Evidence?

The evidence for relaxation therapies is mixed, and depends particularly on the condition under consideration. Relaxation treatments are effective for reducing stress and anxiety. Encouraging evidence also exists for treating insomnia, hypertension and menopausal symptoms. Whether relaxation treatments are helpful for controlling pain is still controversial, and they do not seem to be effective for chronic fatigue syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, dyspepsia and epilepsy. For patients with schizophrenia or severe depression, relaxation might aggravate their problem. Otherwise there seem to be no serious risks. Relaxation techniques are helpful for a range of conditions. They are appreciated by many, not least because they put patients in charge of their own health.

For More Information:

This extract is taken from “Trick or Treatment?” (Transworld), a book that contains a series of 1-page summaries looking at the evidence for and against a range of alternative therapies. The authors of the book are Simon Singh (founder of the Good Thinking Society) and Edzard Ernst (the world’s first professor of complementary medicine