Harvard Women's Health Watch

In the journals: Alexander technique helps relieve chronic back pain

In the journals

Alexander technique helps relieve chronic back pain

Low back pain is one of the most common physical complaints, affecting 80% of people at some time in their lives. Most back pain goes away on its own, but recurring or chronic back pain can disrupt daily activities and make it difficult or even impossible to hold a job. Many different nondrug strategies have been tried for the management of persistent back pain, but few have proven effective in the long run.

Now, a study has found that chronic back pain sufferers can get some relief by practicing the Alexander technique — a rehabilitative discipline developed more than 100 years ago. Earlier studies had suggested benefits with the Alexander approach, but this is the first randomized trial to put it to the test. Results were published in the British medical journal BMJ (Aug. 23, 2008).

The idea behind the technique is that, over time, people develop bad postural and movement habits — for example, slouching while at the computer or tightening neck or shoulder muscles while playing a violin — that interfere with normal neuromuscular coordination. The result is tension and pain. Alexander teachers work one-on-one with students — often performers such as musicians or actors — to help them develop greater awareness of these potentially harmful habits and learn better ways to move and hold their bodies. Practitioners contend that repetition is needed to master the technique, so 20 or more sessions are usually recommended.

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