Alexander Technique and Back Pain – Some Numbers

Alexander Technique and Back Pain – Some Numbers

Do you know how likely it is you’ll get back pain?

Do you know how likely it is you can get long term benefit for your back pain?

Firstly, you have about a 10% chance of experiencing “chronic, impairing low back pain” at some stage, according to a 2009 University of North Carolina study. This was up from 3.9% just three years earlier, so if you’re reading this in 2020 (or later), it will probably be higher. The effects of chronic pain are of course substantial – not just physically, but also socially, emotionally and economically.

Secondly, according to the same study, you have an 80% chance of experiencing “an episode of low back pain at some time” in your life. So if this applies to Australia’s current population of about 23 million, then 18 and a half million people will suffer from back pain at some stage in their life, over 2 million of them chronically.

So your chances of getting back pain are very high, and there’s a 10% chance of it being chronic and impairing – and that number seems to be rising significantly.

What can you do about it? In 2008 a British team looked at the effects of Alexander technique lessons, exercise, and massage for chronic and recurrent back pain (ATEAM study, published in the British Medical Journal 2008).

They had almost 600 participants, who were given either “normal care (control), six sessions of massage, six or 24 lessons on the Alexander technique, and prescription for exercise from a doctor”. They were questioned at three months and then a year about the effects and any benefits.

The effect of 24 lessons in the Alexander Technique was greater at one year than at three months, with an 86% reduction in days in pain. The effect of six lessons was maintained after a year—a 48% reduction in days in pain. For massage the number of days of pain was reduced by 33%, and the exercise group saw no significant effect on days in pain.

The study concluded that “one to one lessons in the Alexander technique from registered teachers have long term benefits for patients with chronic back pain”.

So how does this happen? We are all growing into a posture that reflects what we do each and every day. If we develop a tendency to slump, for example, we will slowly grow into a slumped posture. At first, this will not cause harm, but over time it probably will. Once you have grown into a poor posture, you cannot simply correct it by “sitting up”, or holding yourself in the “right position”. You need to change what you do each and every day so you can start to grow into a better posture, one where your back isn’t in a compressed and painful shape.

The Alexander Technique teaches people to change the way they hold and move their bodies, each and every day, so they can gradually grow into a healthier posture. For most of those with chronic lower back pain, this seems to significantly help. And if we thought about this before we experienced the pain, we could avoid growing into the poor posture in the first place, and so prevent the pain. Then we could start reducing the number of people experiencing back pain. Wouldn’t it be good if many of those 18 and a half million Australians never experienced back pain to start with? The benefits – physically, socially, emotionally, economically – would be enormous. To all of us.

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