Beating cancer-related fatigue with progressive muscle relaxation
Eric Tidline - Social Work Counselor
Cancer-related fatigue is one of the most common issues patients face. Even among patients who have completed cancer treatment, fatigue is one of their foremost concerns.
Fatigue describes a physical and/or mental state of being tired and weak. Physical fatigue and mental fatigue are different, but they often exist together, which can make the experience even more frustrating.
However, it is often possible to curb cancer-related fatigue. Although it may sound counterintuitive, moderated exercise is the number one treatment for cancer-related fatigue.
For some, walking, weight lifting and cycling are great ways to exercise. But if you aren't ready or aren't able to participate in such activities, you might find progressive relaxation exercises helpful. Progressive relaxation is one type of exercise that is often gentle enough to meet most people's needs.
What is progressive muscle relaxation?
Progressive muscle relaxation is based on the idea that the body responds to anxious thoughts by tensing muscles, and the tense muscles add to the anxiety, creating a cycle of stress.
Using progressive muscle relaxation techniques can decrease psychological and physical tension. And, although research into progressive relaxation is in its beginning stages, the findings suggest that it can reduce fatigue and improve quality of life.
How does progressive muscle relaxation work?
First, focus on a target muscle group, such as your legs, shoulders, arms, etc. Next, take a slow, deep breath in and squeeze the muscles in the target group as hard as you can for about five seconds. If you're focusing on your left hand, for instance, make a tight fist with that hand. It is easy to accidentally tense other surrounding muscles, so try to ONLY tense the muscles you are targeting.
After holding the squeeze for about five seconds, release the tensed muscle, let the tightness flow out, and exhale. You should feel the muscles become loose as the tension flows out. Pay attention to the difference between tension and relaxation as it is the key to the exercise. You can then proceed to do the same thing with other muscle groups, until you have worked all the muscles in the body. Feel free to work your muscle groups in any order that feels most comfortable for you.
As with any exercise, take care not to hurt yourself while tensing your muscles. You should never feel intense or shooting pain while completing this exercise. If you have any potential problems or concerns, speak with your doctor first.
Get help at MD Anderson
If you're a patient at MD Anderson, our Social Work Counselors can introduce you to progressive relaxation techniques. We also offer counseling and support groups at no cost to patients and caregivers.
For more information on progressive relaxation, other relaxation techniques, counseling or support groups, contact the Department of Social Work at 713-792-6195, or tell your nurse or doctor that you would like speak with a Social Work Counselor.