BACKGROUNDAsthma is a frequently disabling and almost invariably distressing disease that has a high overall prevalence. Although relaxation techniques and hypnotherapeutic interventions have proven their effectiveness in numerous trials, relaxation therapies are still not recommended in treatment guidelines due to a lack of methodological quality in many of the trials. Therefore, this study aims to investigate the efficacy of the brief relaxation technique of functional relaxation (FR) and guided imagery (GI) in adult asthmatics in a randomized controlled trial.METHODS64 patients with extrinsic bronchial asthma were treated over a 4-week period and assessed at baseline, after treatment and after 4 months, for follow-up. 16 patients completed FR, 14 GI, 15 both FR and GI (FR/GI) and 13 received a placebo relaxation technique as the control intervention (CI). The forced expiratory volume in the first second (FEV(1)) as well as the specific airway resistance (sR(aw)) were employed as primary outcome measures.RESULTSParticipation in FR, GI and FR/GI led to increases in FEV(1) (% predicted) of 7.6 +/- 13.2, 3.3 +/- 9.8, and 8.3 +/- 21.0, respectively, as compared to -1.8 +/- 11.1 in the CI group at the end of the therapy. After follow-up, the increases in FEV(1) were 6.9 +/- 10.3 in the FR group, 4.4 +/- 7.3 in the GI and 4.5 +/- 8.1 in the FR/GI, compared to -2.8 +/- 9.2 in the CI. Improvements in sR(aw) (% predicted) were in keeping with the changes in FEV(1) in all groups.CONCLUSIONSOur study confirms a positive effect of FR on respiratory parameters and suggests a clinically relevant long-term benefit from FR as a nonpharmacological and complementary therapy treatment option.