Alexander Technique for Back Pain and Neck Pain Relief
“One to one lessons in the Alexander technique…have
long term benefits for patients with chronic back pain.”
– British Medical Journal, 19 August, 2008*
This was one of the basic conclusions of a study conducted in the UK, and published by the British Medical Journal, and something many Alexander Technique teachers and students have known for a long time.
This video was made to accompany the trial, and does a good job of describing the Alexander Technique and how the study was conducted, as well as explaining how it’s used to help people with back pain:
You can get full details of the study, which was a randomized controlled trial of Alexander Technique lessons, exercise and massage for chronic and recurrent back pain, at the British Medical Journal’s website.
I’m very excited that now a new study (again in the UK) is being done to look at the effectiveness of Alexander Technique lessons (and acupuncture) for relieving neck pain. I can’t wait to see the results. Chronic neck pain was the reason I started having Alexander Technique lessons in the first place, and learning the Technique completely turned things around for me.
Even though I know the Alexander Technique worked for me (and then some!), and have seen it help many other people, I think it is really useful to have the backing of properly conducted, large-scale studies like these. Is that important to you?
Have you been helped by approaches that might be considered (at least at the moment) outside the norm of modern medicine? Were you influenced by whether or not there was evidence to support that approach, or was that insignificant to you? I’d be curious to see how other people think about this. Please leave me a comment in the space below.
I also started taking AT lessons for neck pain which was not relieved by more traditional methods. Within only a few lessons my neck pain disappeared, and I received so many additional, unexpected benefits that I fell in love with the Technique and am now a teacher of it. It changed my life, and I love sharing these wonderful tools with others, to help others improve their lives, too. Lovely post, Imogen!
Thanks for commenting, Jennifer – I didn’t know neck pain was your initial reason for taking lessons too!
I have also experienced so much more than relief from chronic neck pain (though, believe me, I’d have been extremely happy with that alone!) through learning the Alexander Technique. Who knew it would become a way of life!
I’d like to join the former neck pain crowd! Mine, unfortunately didn’t go away in a few weeks. The pain was down to my hand, and I had to stop playing music. (I was a full-time musician my entire life) I stayed with the Alexander Technique because it seemed logical to me. And yup, my pain decreased and then stopped. Not too long after I looked into training and was Certified in 2003. I really feel for people who are going through that type of pain. I hope they somehow hear about the Alexander Technique, before they get too involved with ‘traditional’ medicine.)
Welcome to the former neck pain club, Mark!! My neck pain was quite stubborn too (or rather my habits that were causing the pain!). Though I did experience some relief after lessons, it was actually a long, gradual process. The potential, though, was obvious to me immediately. My hope is that studies like these will help more people hear about the Alexander Technique and be willing to give it a shot!
Hi just to comment on your blog. I believe AT can never be use to cure anything. It is not medicine, but an education system. Health improvements are indications that previous use was faulty. I think long term studies on use in relation to function, would be money better spent. The BMJ study recommends six lessons, followed by exercise and its a cost analysis. Lastly to be in a study with acupuncture is embarrassing.
I absolutely agree that Alexander Technique is educational rather than a medical (see my previous blog). However, improvements in the way that you use your whole body, as you learn through AT, do lead to the relief of lots of aches and pains – something that many people could benefit from, but probably wouldn’t consider if they (or their doctor!) didn’t know about it through studies like this one. Thanks for commenting.
hi Brandon Straw,
I believe AT can never be use to cure anything. i accept this statement.
then why we are doing this technique.
people may think seeing your statement, like
this not cures any thing, then what is the need to do this technique?
may be you are passing wrong statement?
accept the statement of alexander technique cures the diseases of chronic type?
may be not today or tommorrow, but suddenly on oneday, one night, one fine morning.
I think you might be on to something! “Cure” is a word open to many interpretations. If the habitual way you use yourself leads to an aching back, and then you learn to use your body differently so that your back no longer hurts, you could argue that your back ache has been cured… There may be better ways to state this, but for the person who no longer has back pain the Alexander Technique sure feels like a “cure!”
The worst way to approach lessons, giving or taking, is to come with a set idea about what you want as a result. “The end for which they are working is of minor importance as compared with the way they direct the use of themselves for the gaining of that end” Alexander. Its seems easy to sell the idea of cures, but is that what AT is about? Why do the technique? ” The most valuable knowledge we can possess is of the use and functioning of the self” Micheal Gelb
I disagree with you Brandon – I think the worst way to approach lessons is to think you’ll be “fixed” by the teacher and won’t have to actually learn anything new yourself, won’t have to change the way you think.
For my money, someone with chronic back pain, for example, who hears that a lot of people have reduced or eliminated their back pain because they studied the Alexander Technique, has every reason to explore the Technique. Certainly they may want to focus exclusively on lessening their back pain, but any Alexander Technique teacher worth his/her salt will do their best to nudge them away from this kind of “end-gaining” (slipping in some Alexander jargon here) and help them change their overall “use of themselves” (more jargon!).
The truth of the matter is that almost everybody who has ever taken an Alexander Technique lesson had some fairly specific reason for doing so.
F. Matthias Alexander taught the first Alexander Technique lessons to himself in order that he could continue his career. He didn’t do it to improve “the use and functioning of himself” – he would probably have had no idea what that meant when he started.
PS Great blog post Imogen!
Very well put, Robert! I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Interesting post. I had never heard of the Alexander Technique, but I’ve suffered from chronic back pain for several years and am willing to try anything to get rid of it at this point!
I hope you look into it, Mandy. Here are a couple of sites where you can find a teacher near you: http://www.AmSATonline.org and AlexanderTechnique.com 🙂
Very impressive study Imogen! I highly agree with the notion of taking control of the healing process for oneself. Does this replace chiropractic adjustments? Can the way you change your movements change the alignment of your vertebrae?
To answer your question re chiropractic, I would say long-term probably “Yes!” In the short-term, Alexander Technique lessons should help your adjustments be more successful and long-lasting, as you will be learning not to pull down and compress in your habitual way. As you learn to move differently, in a more natural and less compressed way, you will likely have less need for adjustments.
I tink AT is an amazing re-education system and I think the scientific research is invaluable. To answer your question, I was introduced last year to the BEMER and have begun to sell them and coach people using them and have been deeply impressed by the level of scientific and clinical research that has been made to create this amazing technology. Lots of good articles on PubMed. This made quite an impression on me. I even know of some AT teachers who are using the BEMER in conjunction with the BEMER and finding a synergistic effect…
I’m definitely with you on the scientific research. I have not heard of the BEMER – though now I’m curious to find out more. Thanks for the information.
When I had upper body spasms after my lower back surgery, nothing helped until I got acupuncture. It was like a miracle – one session brought me back from the edge of horrible pain. After that I was able to do therapy and start to heal. I would not hesitate to explore alternative treatments (the “less proven” variety), and I so welcome research that removes some of the mystique. It’s exciting to see the research you are reporting.
The Reflective Writer
Personal-Professional Balance Through Writing
It’s interesting that once we have a positive experience with something considered “alternative” we become much more open to exploring other modalities. I do believe that scientific studies do tip the balance for some people in their willingness to try something new out.
Yes, I have been helped by methods that others might think strange. I don’t know if there are studies to back it up and I don’t really care. All I care about is that it works for me and I no longer have to go to the chiropractor every week as I’ve done for the last 32 years. That should speak for itself.
Good to know there are some people who don’t need the scientific back up! I think the other thing that encourages people to try something new, is word of mouth – what could be better than hearing from a friend that something worked for them. Thanks for commenting, Susan!
Yes, the Alexander Technique is very good. I’ve experienced it and the way of movement feels odd at first yet it is easier to maneuver. Quite interesting.
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Yes, it can feel odd to move without all our habits of tension at first!!
Yes I have. When I was receiving radiation treatment I was also receiving acupressure. It helped me with the stress of the situation. I slept better and was able to maintain my exercise program. Great benefits for me.
Good to hear, Sue. I think as well as scientific studies etc., word of mouth is a huge factor in whether we are willing to try something. Thanks so much for sharing.
Ooh, as a researcher, I do love good solid research, but I’ve also been trained to be aware of how easy it is to get numbers to say what you want them to say. How too small or too large of a sample size can skew results, how things can get missed, etc. Having spent many years in autism, I saw some of the crazy approaches my clients used, was more than aware of what was “proven” to be effective, etc. I’ve watched the vaccine debates, etc. Science is important to me, but it needs to be “good” science. Unfortunately, most people are not trained on how to recognize good and bad science, take studies at their word instead of knowing how to locate confounds (even though any good study should actually point out the confounds), and too often, results are blasted out and misconstrued. I’m not doubting this research at all since I am 100% in favor of alternative therapies, just stating my opinion on whether or not “science” is important. I have suffered with back/neck pain for years ever since having a student slam his head into my face, breaking my nose and causing whiplash that left me with zero curvature in my neck. I see a chiropractor and just had my first acupuncture treatment today. I may need to look further into AT as well if I find that I’m still having difficulties. I look forward to reading the research on AT and acupuncture.
Good to know your thoughts, Sue. I don’t have the research background that you do, but I do feel pretty confident the back pain study published in the BMJ was good quality and had a good sample size (around 500 participants). I am sure Alexander Technique could only be helpful for your situation 🙂
In a lot of back pain. Would like additional info.and where I can find a therapist
You can find information on how to find Alexander Technique teachers in different locations around the world at http://www.alexandertechnique.com/teacher/
I hope you find relief from your pain very soon.
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Rarely, neck pain can be a symptom of a more serious problem. Seek medical care if your neck pain is accompanied by numbness or loss of strength in your arms or hands or if you’re experiencing shooting pain into your shoulder or down your arm. :,–
Absolutely. Thanks for your comment.
Always want to learn more natural ways to eliminate neck pain. More often than not, drugs just keep making people more sick.
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