Johns Hopkins Health Alert: "The Alexander Technique: An Alternative Therapy for Chronic Back Pain"

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Posted on Back Pain Health Topic page on October 28, 2011 following a more comprehensive article with the same title that appeared in the Johns Hopkins Health After 50 Newsletter in August 2011.

If you have chronic back pain and you find that pain medication, physical therapy and regular exercise don't provide you with sufficient long-term relief, you may want to consider an alternative movement therapy called the Alexander technique.

Developed in the 19th century by Frederick M. Alexander, the Alexander technique consists of a series of postural exercises designed to relieve tension in the head, neck and spine. Though it is traditionally used by actors, musicians and others to enhance artistic performance, small studies have reported that the Alexander technique can improve respiratory function, provide relief from pain and stiffness associated with Parkinson’s disease, steady balance in the elderly and reduce postural fatigue among surgeons. It may be particularly helpful for treating people with chronic back pain. 

Johns Hopkins imageThe basic premise of the Alexander technique is that the way you hold yourself as you accomplish everyday movements causes or exacerbates chronic back pain. As the Alexander technique theory goes, the position of your neck while you sit or the sagging of your hips while you walk, for instance, puts excess strain on your spine. The trick, Alexander technique proponents claim, is to become aware of your unhealthy postural habits and replace them with healthy habits.

During a typical Alexander technique lesson, an instructor will observe you in action -- as you get out of a chair, pick something up or walk across the room, for example. Then, he or she will use verbal cues and subtle hand guidance to gently correct your posture and movements. Through modeling, feedback and practice, you will learn to correct your posture to move more fluidly and efficiently. Theoretically, this helps decompress your spine, limits pain and muscle spasms, strengthens your postural muscles and improves flexibility and coordination.   

Bottom line: Think of the Alexander technique as another potential tool along with exercise to proactively manage your back pain, but not as a cure-all or substitute for any other treatments your doctor may have recommended. To find a certified instructor of the Alexander technique in your area, contact the American Society for the Alexander Technique at www.amsatonline.org

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