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Relaxation techniques for acute pain management

Clinical bottom line:

Convincing evidence for the efficacy of relaxation is lacking. More trials of better quality are needed.


Relaxation has become increasingly popular as a pain relieving intervention. It has been suggested that it works by breaking the vicious circle of pain, tension and thus more pain. There are a number of trials which suggest that relaxation may be effective in a number of acute pain conditions, although the quality of these trials is varied.

Systematic review

Seers K, Carroll D Relaxation techniques for acute pain management - a systematic review. Journal of Advanced Nursing 1998; 27:

Inclusion criteria were full journal publication; relaxation alone and not in combination with other interventions; randomised controlled trial; pain outcomes; group size 10. Experimental pain trials were not included.

Reviewers rated trials as effective if the original trials reported p values of <0.05 for pain and/or psychological outcomes. Post-hoc sub-group analyses in the original trial reports were not considered.

Findings

Three of seven trials reported significantly less pain sensation and/or pain distress in those who had relaxation. The remaining four studies did not demonstrate a difference between relaxation and control.

Only one of five trials reported a significant difference with relaxation in psychological outcomes, with reduced anxiety ratings.

It is unclear whether reported benefits of relaxation are clinically relevant. A number of positive and negative trials were methodologically flawed, thus a definitive answer to the benefits of relaxation in the management of acute pain is not yet available.

Adverse effects

No adverse effects were reported.

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