• postoperative pain;
  • relaxation;
  • complementary therapy;
  • pain management;
  • nursing

Background.  Unrelieved pain after surgery can lead to complications, prolonged hospital stay, and delayed recovery. Because of side effects from opioids and differences in response, it is important to use non-pharmacological methods in addition to analgesics to decrease patient discomfort and anxiety.

Aims.  We examined the effects of a systematic method of relaxing the body on the sensory and affective components of postoperative pain, anxiety, and opioid intake after initial ambulation.

Design.  A randomized controlled trial with relaxation and control groups was used.

Method.  The convenience sample of 102 adults underwent abdominal surgery at a large hospital in Thailand. Systematic relaxation was used for 15 minutes during recovery from the first ambulation after surgery. Pain was measured with 100 mm Visual Analogue Sensation and Distress of Pain Scales before and after the intervention. State anxiety was measured before surgery and after the intervention; opioid intake was recorded 6 hours later.

Results.  The relaxation group had less post-test sensation and distress of pain (26 and 25 mm less, respectively) than the control group (P = 0·001). Relaxation did not result in significantly less anxiety or 6-hour opioid intake. However, group differences in state anxiety were in the expected direction and fewer participants in the relaxation group requested opioids. Nearly all reported that systematic relaxation reduced their pain and increased their sense of control.

Conclusion.  Substantial reductions in the sensation and distress of pain were found when postoperative patients used systematic relaxation. Although tested in Thailand, we recommend that nurses in other countries try systematic relaxation with postoperative patients, in addition to analgesic medication, measuring pain scores and asking about cultural acceptance.