The British Medical Journal has produced a video which explains clearly what the Alexander Technique is and how it appears to be the most effective treatment for back pain. Highly recommended.
Research, led by Dr. Paul Little of Southampton University and published by The British Medical Journal, showed ‘One to one lessons in the Alexander technique from registered teachers have long term benefits for patients with chronic back pain’. While the causes of back pain are still not understood, one explanation of how the technique helps is offered in research by Dr Timothy Cacciatore et al. The team ‘observed significant reductions in axial and proximal stiffness during standing in subjects with chronic idiopathic low back pain following a course in Alexander Technique lessons… While the causes of such back pain are poorly understood, these results are consistent with decreased loading of the spine and related tissues, which could plausibly underlie pain reduction’.
How The Alexander Technique reduces back pain
Within the body are many layers of muscles. Mostly they are movement muscles- bulky fast twitch muscles designed to move the skeleton at its joints.
The muscles shown in the diagram are the postural muscles- small delicate, slow-twitch muscles which work in groups to keep the upright balance of the skeleton. these muscles are built for endurance. If not worked properly, they will atrophy. If these muscles are weak or not used well, the body will compensate by tensing some of the fast twitch outer muscle groups.
This causes a multitude of problems. The outer muscle groups are designed for movement only, not for sustained endurance (such as maintaining posture); they fatigue easily. If your movement muscles are unduly tense, you will also feel tense. If you use fast twitch muscles inappropriately (for posture), your slow twitch muscles will become weak.
When all movement muscles are relaxed, the posture muscles function easily, with little effort. If we start to use our movement muscles when they should be free, our posture becomes distorted. The posture muscles then start to overwork, in particular to brace joints that are no longer aligned.
Once this unnatural use of movement muscles is habitual, it becomes very difficult to ‘unlearn’. When misusing the muscles in back, neck or limbs in this way, we can experience back pain, headache, neck-ache, and many other ills.
This unlearning of the habits- of holding and misusing the movement muscles in the back and neck- is the basis of The Alexander Technique. The Alexander teacher gives the student the experience of how their body feels when movement muscles relax, and postural muscles can resume their resting role. As the lessons progress you as the student are able to allow this ‘undoing’ yourself, allowing the muscles in your back to return to an easy, pain-free state.
the Alexander Technique re-teaches us to use the deep postural muscles, rebuilding their strength and endurance. When the body is properly balanced, a relaxed uprightness feels almost effortless, and can be easily sustained.
One key way the Alexander Technique addresses back pain is this, the semi-supine position. It is the position of maximum rest for the spine. The Alexander teacher will often work on the student while she is in this position. The books create a little passive traction for the upper back and neck; placing the knees up does the same for the lower back.
This position allows the fluid filled intervertebral discs to rehydrate to their maximum capacity quickly and efficiently. This allows them to act as shock absorbers for the spine, thus nurturing the nervous system.
Semi-supine is commonly included in Alexander Technique homework.