Most relaxation techniques are non-invasive, and generally are considered to be safe in healthy adults. Serious adverse effects have not been reported. It is theorized that anxiety may actually be increased in some individuals using relaxation techniques, or that autogenic discharges (sudden, unexpected emotional experiences including pain, heart palpitations, muscle twitching, crying spells, or increased blood pressure) may occur rarely. Scientific evidence is limited in these areas. People with psychiatric disorders such as schizophrenia/psychosis should avoid relaxation techniques unless recommended by their primary psychiatric healthcare provider. It is sometimes suggested by practitioners that techniques requiring inward focusing may intensify depressed mood, although scientific evidence is limited in this area.
Jacobson relaxation (flexing specific muscles, holding that position, then relaxing the muscles) should be used cautiously by people with illnesses such as heart disease, high blood pressure, or musculoskeletal injury.
Relaxation therapy is not recommended as the sole treatment approach for potentially serious medical conditions, and should not delay the time to diagnosis or treatment with more proven techniques.
These uses have been tested in humans or animals. Safety and effectiveness have not always been proven. Some of these conditions are potentially serious, and should be evaluated by a qualified healthcare provider.
Numerous human studies report that relaxation techniques (for example using audio tapes or group therapy) may moderately reduce anxiety, particularly in individuals without significant mental illness. Relaxation may be beneficial for phobias such as agoraphobia (fear of crowds), panic disorder, work-related stress, and anxiety due to serious illnesses, prior to medical procedures, or during pregnancy. However, because there are many types of relaxation techniques used in studies, and many trials do not clearly describe design or results, a strong recommendation cannot be made without better human evidence.
Early research in patients with angina reports that relaxation may reduce anxiety, depression, frequency of angina episodes, need for medication, and physical limitations. Large well-designed studies are needed to confirm these results.
Preliminary studies of relaxation techniques in individuals with asthma report a significant decrease in asthma symptoms, anxiety and depression, along with improvements in quality of life and measures of lung function. Further large trials in humans are needed to confirm these results.
Chemotherapy induced nausea and vomiting
Early human trials report that relaxation techniques may be helpful in reducing nausea related to cancer chemotherapy. Better quality research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
There is promising early evidence from human trials supporting the use of relaxation to reduce symptoms of depression,
Relaxation has been reported to reduce fibromyalgia pain. However, results from other studies are conflicting, and therefore further research is needed before a clear recommendation can be made.
Preliminary evidence suggests that relaxation techniques may be helpful for the reduction of migraine headache symptoms in adults. Study of relaxation in children with headaches has yielded unclear results. Additional research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Heart attack risk reduction
Early research of relaxation techniques in people who have had a heart attack suggests that fewer future heart attacks may occur when relaxation is regularly practiced. However, only a small number of patients have been studied, and better research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be reached.
High blood pressure
Relaxation techniques have been associated with reduced pulse rate, systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, lower perception of stress and enhanced perception of health. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
Mental health and quality-of-life improvements have been seen in preliminary studies of HIV/AIDS patients. These findings suggest the need for further, well-controlled research.
Preliminary research in patients with Huntington's disease has evaluated the effects of either multisensory stimulation or relaxation activities (control) for four weeks, with unclear results. Further research is necessary before a conclusion can be drawn.
Several human trials suggest that relaxation techniques may be beneficial in people with insomnia, although effects appear to be short-lived. Research suggests that relaxation techniques may produce improvements in some aspects of sleep such as sleep latency and time awake after sleep onset. Cognitive forms of relaxation such as meditation are reported as being slightly better than somatic forms of relaxation such as progressive muscle relaxation (PMR). However, most studies in this area are not well designed or reported. Better research is necessary before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Irritable bowel disease
Early research in humans suggests that relaxation may aid in the prevention and relief of irritable bowel disease symptoms. Large, well-designed trials are needed to confirm these results.
There is promising early evidence from human trials supporting the use of relaxation techniques to reduce menopausal symptoms,
Results of randomized controlled studies of relaxation techniques for obsessive-compulsive disorder show conflicting results. Further research is needed before conclusions can be drawn.
In a randomized study of patients with osteoarthritis pain, Jacobson relaxation was reported to lower the level of subjective pain over time. The study concluded that relaxation might be effective in reducing the amount of analgesic medication taken by participants. Further well-designed research is needed to confirm these results.
Most studies of relaxation for pain, including post-operative pain and low back pain, are poor quality and report conflicting results. Better research is necessary before relaxation techniques can be recommended either alone or as an addition to other treatments for acute or chronic pain.
In a randomized clinical trial, mime therapy - including automassage, relaxation exercises, inhibition of synkinesis, coordination exercises and emotional expression exercises - was shown to be a good treatment choice for patients with sequelae of facial paralysis.
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
There is early evidence that progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) training may improve physical and emotional symptoms associated with PMS. Further research is necessary before a conclusion can be drawn.
Limited preliminary research reports that muscle relaxation training may improve function and well being in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Additional research is necessary before a conclusion can be reached.
Early research reports that relaxation with imagery may reduce relapse rates in people who successfully completed smoking cessation programs. Better study is needed in this area before a firm conclusion can be reached.
A small study showed biofeedback assisted relaxation (BFRT) benefits patients with neurocardiogenic syncope. Further study is necessary to confirm these results.
Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
Relaxation therapy has been associated with benefits in preliminary studies of tinnitus patients. Further research is needed to confirm these results.
Studies assessing relaxation to improve psychological well-being and "calm" in multiple types of patients have reported positive results, although the results of most trials have not been statistically significant. Although this research is suggestive, additional work is merited in this area before a firm conclusion can be drawn.
Myocardial infarction (heart attack)
Initial research in which patients were given an advice and relaxation audiotape within 24 hours of hospital admission for a heart attack found a reduction in the number of misconceptions about heart disease, but no benefits on measured health-related outcomes.
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Relaxation has been studied for post-traumatic stress disorder with no benefit seen in these patients.