Being an extract from Chapter 7 of the following book:
Relax Your Way to a Better Life: Using Dr Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation technique for physical and mental health. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for E-CENT Publications. Taylor-Byrne, R.E. (2020).
Here are the first two pages of Chapter 7:
“The vicious circle of the ‘fear-tension-pain’ syndrome is responsible for the pain of labour (during childbirth). In 90 or 95 percent of cases, severe pain can be avoided or overcome by the elimination of fear and tension.”
Dr Grantly Dick-Read (1890-1959) – Quoted in Caton 1996.
In this chapter I will describe the evidence that the impact of pain on the body-brain-mind can be reduced by the process of ‘scientific relaxation’. This was Jacobson’s description of his technique, and I will give examples of different physical conditions that generate pain and how progressive muscle relaxation reduces it significantly.
The anticipation of pain
The first example of a type of physical pain which benefits from relaxation training is the process of giving birth. One way in which the experience of pain can be increased is by anticipation – and one of the most common events where people know that they are going to experience pain, is during childbirth.
The anticipation of pain during the delivery of a baby can lead to fearing the event, and this inevitably leads to increased physical tension. And tension makes the whole delivery process more painful.
Jacobson started using his scientific relaxation approach of progressive muscle relaxation, with pregnant women, in 1930. This was when the natural childbirth technique was first used to deliver a baby, at the University of Chicago hospital.
And, as a result of reading an early edition of Jacobson’s book, entitled ‘You must relax’, Dr Grantly Dick-Reed, who was a British obstetrician, created the method called ‘Natural Childbirth’ which was also called the ‘Lamaze’ method, in the 1930’s. This approach to childbirth took into account the natural response of increased physical tension in response to pain, and, as Jacobson had shown, the pain was lessened with scientific relaxation of the muscles.
As was stated above, physical tension increases the inevitable pain of childbirth, while relaxation reduces that pain. And from the 1930’s onwards, in the US and the UK, this knowledge led to the practice of encouraging pregnant women to start attending relaxation classes to prepare for the birth of their baby. The evidence was very clear: that the labour would be made easier; the time the delivery took would be shortened; fewer problems would be experienced in the delivery process; and the stress level of the mother would be lowered; as would their blood pressure.
These findings, from early natural childbirth processes, encouraged women to learn to relax; to breathe more therapeutically; to learn more about the process they would be going through; and in addition, to start coaching their birth partner (most often their husband) in how to support them as they experienced the delivery process. Armed with their increased knowledge of the body’s biological processes, this made women active contributors to their baby’s birth, rather than suffering extra pain for which they were unprepared either physically or mentally.
Here is some convincing evidence of the effectiveness of progressive muscle relaxation, …
End of extract.
 Jacobson, E., (1965) How to relax and have your baby: Scientific relaxation in childbirth. New York: McGraw-Hill.