Effectiveness of relaxation for postoperative pain and anxiety: randomized controlled trial

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This paper is a report of a study to determine the effectiveness of jaw and total body relaxation for postoperative pain, anxiety and level of relaxation, and to determine any patient expectancy effects.


Relaxation is increasingly suggested as a pain control technique that can be used by nurses in daily practice. A systematic review of the effectiveness of relaxation for postoperative pain relief revealed many poorly designed studies and only some weak evidence supporting the use of relaxation for postoperative pain.


A randomized controlled trial (n=118) was conducted between 2002 and 2003 to compare total body relaxation, jaw relaxation, attention control and usual care. Consenting patients admitted for elective orthopaedic surgery aged 18 or over, able to speak English and able to tense and relax more than two muscle groups were included. Pain at rest and on movement, anxiety and relaxation were assessed at pre-admission clinic, pre-intervention, immediately post-intervention and 1, 2, 3 and 4 hours later. However, the trial was under-powered.


There were statistically significant reductions in pain at rest from pre- to post-intervention for both the relaxation groups and the attention control group. The usual care group had a small increase in pain, whilst the other three groups had similar small decreases in pain. There was no statistically significant difference in anxiety or relaxation scores pre- to post-intervention between groups.


Jaw relaxation could give these orthopaedic patients a small, very short-lasting additional amount of pain relief, and it may be that staff and patients feel this small benefit to be worthwhile.

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