Stop giving yourself back pain

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Alexander Technique has been proven to be effective for patients with chronic or recurrent back pain

The conclusion of the ATEAM trial published 19 August 2008 was: ‘One to one lessons in the Alexander technique from registered teachers have long term benefits for patients with chronic back pain. Six lessons followed by exercise prescription were nearly as effective as 24 lessons.’ Here is the BMJ report of the ATEAM trial.

Ten years on it is curious that doctors don’t routinely recommend a course of Alexander Technique lessons to patients with back pain. Lessons are not available on the NHS, but many teachers (myself included) offer group courses to make AT accessible in the same way as Pilates and Yoga.

What to stop doing

What if the answer is not to add on activities? As Katy Bowman, American biomechanist and author says: ‘The remedy is usually not in what to do, but what to stop doing.’ *

Think about all the things humans do that they’ve learned relatively recently in their development: using a keyboard, driving a car, riding a bicycle, rowing a boat, writing, reading books, eating processed foods, using toilets, sitting on chairs … All these activities demand that we compensate for them in some way.

For example, if we always sit on chairs, certain muscles are tighter than if we always squatted or sat on the floor. Stretching is useful and it feels good, but we also need to find appropriate muscular tone. More isn’t necessarily better. That’s why Active Rest is so useful; it gives you the opportunity to find your neutral. Think of it as returning to factory settings!

'It's about the way you use your body'

We’re so good at picking up habits and imitating people that we tend to be unaware of what we’re doing with ourselves. So if the GP recommends ‘more exercise’ for back pain, there is no guarantee that the patient will move in a helpful way. To quote Katy Bowman again (because she isn’t an Alexander Technique teacher): ‘It’s not about an exercise making it worse; it’s about the way you use your body making it worse.’ **

Alexander Technique isn’t a thing you do for an hour a week. It’s a way of being, enabling you to use your whole self better, more effectively, and with less damage. Doesn’t that sound good?

* Alignment Matters p. 320.

** Alignment Matters p. 409.