Alexander Technique for Back Pain
The Alexander Technique is a practical method of skilled analysis of how a person’s unconscious thoughts affect the quality of body dynamics. Teachers of the Alexander Technique facilitate self awareness in students as a means of observing, identifying and eliminating patterns of misuse that often lead to cumulative stressors and tension in the head, neck and spine. Practicing the Alexander Technique can lead to improved postural alignment and a more efficient use of the body throughout daily activities. Routine tasks of walking, sitting, standing, driving, computer and gardening work can be accomplished with minimal tension and strain.
The Alexander Technique is recognized by the National Health Service of the United Kingdom as an alternative or complementary method for the management of back pain. A 2008 study from the University of Southampton and the University of Bristol in England concluded that as few as six one-on-one lessons from registered teachers of the Alexander Technique brought about “long-term benefits for patients with chronic back pain.”
A major medical study in England, published by the British Medical Journal in 2008, found that lessons in the Alexander technique have long term benefits for patients with chronic back pain, and are the most cost-effective way to treat back pain. The full study can be read at http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/full/337/aug19_2/a884 A video produced by the British Medical Journal summarizing the study can be viewed at http://www.viddler.com/explore/atbmj/videos/1/.
How Can the Alexander Technique Help Back Pain?
Back pain is primarily a muscular problem brought on by poor posture and movement habits. By undergoing guidance from an Alexander Technique instructor, you can learn how to adjust your body to meet the needs of your daily activities and reduce strain on your back. Over the course of several lessons, you can learn to reprogram your body to be more efficient in movement, standing, sitting, and breathing. Becoming able to sense when you are restricting your body and learn to release these poor postural habits will be highly effective in alleviating your back pain and preventing its return.
What is the Alexander Technique?
The Alexander Technique is neither a diagnostic nor a physical or mental therapy. Rather, it is a process involving gentle hands-on guiding or modeling of the student's body to respond correctly to verbal cues. These cues may help the student become more sensitive to harmful mental and physical habits of thought and movement in daily activities. The Alexander Technique is commonly studied and practiced by performers, dancers, actors, singers and musicians to facilitate free flowing, graceful movements with a minimum of accumulated tension. Frederick Mathias Alexander, an Australian stage performer, developed the technique after a decade of self observation. He began to train teachers in the technique in the 1930s. Alexander's self investigations into his own body-mind dynamics led to the principles of what is now known as the Alexander Technique.
Some principles of the Alexander Technique include:
- Emphasis on the essential unity of the mind and the body
- Importance of the head/spine relationship, the “postural core,” to the quality of “the use of the self”
- Recognizing the body’s innate ability to move with poise, grace and efficiency
- Awareness of body dynamics and specific sequences and patterns of direction
- Increasing sensory awareness of warning signs of bodily misuse
What Happens in a Typical Alexander Technique session?
As a student of the Alexander Technique, a teacher trained in the method will begin by observing the student's habitual patterns of movement. Through verbal instruction and gentle hands-on guidance, the trained teacher will facilitate the student's ability to become mindful of breath, posture, and tension and of their psycho-physical habits that may hold tension. By changing patterns of harmful behavior, students of the Alexander Technique learn how to ‘use’ and coordinate the body and mind, in what the founder of the technique called the "psycho-physical use of the self."
Back pain is a complex symptom of injury or accumulated stress that is unique to the individual and to his or her particular habits of thought and movement. Proper diagnosis of the cause for the back pain is difficult but necessary prior to engaging in any type of treatment. Treatment for back injury and pain depends upon the location and duration of the pain and the individual’s circumstances. Various diagnostic tests are available to aid your physician in determining the causes and proper treatment for back pain. The Alexander Technique, when combined with strengthening exercises, can be helpful in alleviating many of the conditions that cause and sustain back pain.
What is Back Pain?
Back pain is a common symptom resulting from injuries and strains in the musculoskeletal system of the back. Muscles, tendons and ligaments in the spine may tense, the spine may compress, and nerves in the back may become impinged leading to pain symptoms. Additional causes of back pain may include life-long habits of poor posture, being overweight, inactivity and inadequate muscle strength, and the wear and tear of aging, including osteoporosis, arthritis, and degeneration or herniated discs. Certain types of physical work or athletics that involve repetitive motion may cause injuries to any of the 33 vertebrae that comprise the spine, resulting in various forms of back pain. Back pain may also be linked to emotional stress, depression, and anxiety. Back pain may be acute or chronic, lasting over three months. Skilled application of the Alexander Technique has been helpful in preventing and alleviating muscle, joint and back pains resulting from accumulated and habitual tension and poor posture.
The website of The Complete Guide to the Alexander Technique, is a comprehensive collection of information and resources for teachers and students of the Alexander Technique. The site is maintained by an Alexander Technique author, teacher and workshop director, and contains links to Alexander Technique teachers and training opportunities.
The website Back Pain, provides a comprehensive listing of many kinds of back pain and methods of treatment and prevention.