Back Pain and the Technique

Back pain is one of the most widespread health problems in modern society. According to ACC, 80% of New Zealanders suffer from low back pain at some time in their lives.

Recent Research - Relief for Chronic Back Pain

The British Medical Journal (19 August 2008) has published the results of the first major scientific study of its kind focussing on the effectiveness of the Alexander Technique. The study found that one to one lessons in the Alexander Technique from registered teachers have long term benefits for patients with chronic back pain.

In this study, groups of patients were allocated one of four types of treatment:

  • Normal care such as painkillers, physiotherapy or GP referral,
  • 6 massage treatments over six weeks,
  • 6 Alexander Technique lessons taught on a one-to-one basis over six weeks, or
  • 24 AT lessons (22 over five months and a refresher in months seven and nine).

Half of the patients in each group were also prescribed an exercise programme, consisting of brisk walking for 30 minutes a day five times a week.

The best results were seen in the group that received 24 Alexander Technique lessons, with important improvements in function, quality of life and reduction in days in pain. One year after the trial started, the average number of activities limited by low back pain had fallen by 42%, and the number of days in pain was only 3 per month, compared with 21 days in pain in the control group under normal care.

At one year, the series of six AT lessons followed by GP prescribed aerobic exercise (mainly walking) was about 70% as beneficial as a series of 24 AT lessons alone.

Massage and exercise showed improved function at three months, but the effects of massage were no longer significant one year after the start of the trial, while exercise had modest benefits.

The study was conducted by a team of researchers from Southampton and Bristol Universities in the United Kingdom. It involved 579 patients with chronic or recurring back pain from 64 GP areas in the south and west of England. 59 Alexander Technique teachers participated.

Professor Paul Little, the primary care specialist who led the study, said: "Massage is helpful in the short term, but the Alexander Technique retained effectiveness at one year. It probably does this by limiting muscle spasm, strengthening postural muscles, improving co-ordination and flexibility and decompressing the spine. The results should apply to most patients with chronic or recurrent back pain."

Click here to view videos about the study.

Further links related to this study:

Misuse can Cause Back Pain

Many factors are implicated in back pain, including being overweight, a sedentary work life, and inadequate or inappropriate exercise. Alexander Technique teachers see a common thread in many people suffering from back pain - what they call 'misuse'. We use ourselves (our bodies and minds) constantly, in rest and in activity. Muscular effort and the neurological messages which cause it are continuously present in our daily lives. Indeed, they are so ubiquitous that we pay them little or no attention. Stress and habits such as over-reactivity cause us to tense and move in ways that load our muscles poorly.

Pain ought to be an ally, warning us that something is wrong that needs attending to. Consequently back pain is often a sign of misuse. But instead of getting the message we usually treat the pain as the problem and try to do away with it, through painkillers or physical treatment, without attending to the underlying misuse that at the very least is a major contributor.

Alexander Technique teachers can help you to become aware of the misuse patterns that cause or contribute to back pain, and teach you to position yourself and move in ways that minimise misuse.