The Alexander Technique Provides Short-Term Relief From Back Pain

Chronic and recurring back pain is painful at best and incapacitating at its worst, and sitting in front of a computer all day rarely helps. The New York Times reports that using a method known as the Alexander technique may offer some short term relief by repositioning your head.

Photo by pappajohn1969.

The Times's Consults blog picked up on a study published in the British Medical Journal that found that the Alexander technique "could potentially reduce back pain by limiting muscle spasm, strengthening postural muscles, improving coordination and flexibility, and decompressing the spine."

An previous Times story helps explain the technique, which derives its name from Australian actor F. Matthias Alexander.

The focal point of Alexander therapy is the positioning of the head, 10 to 15 percent of the body's total weight perched atop a slender rod, the spinal column. With two-thirds of the head's weight in front of the spine, it tends to fall forward (as it does when you doze off sitting up). The muscles in the back of the neck must keep it balanced. Some people adopt a military posture: chest out, shoulders back, chin in. Others tilt their heads back and lead with their chins. Still others bend their heads forward and hunch their shoulders. All such abnormal postures create undue stress on the spine and its supporting tissues.

The Alexander method teaches a more relaxed and natural posture and movement patterns that balance the head while relaxing the neck muscles. It also strives to free the neck from having to participate in every move the body makes.

Considering that posture is a major problem at the computer and that many of us spend entire days with our head leaning forward gaping at computer monitors, re-learning how to hold our heads to avoid back pain is potentially beneficial for many of us. The NYT spoke to the BMJ study's lead author Paul Little who said that—though the technique is not a form of back exercise—it can be applied to everyday situations like standing, walking, or sitting at a desk.

The Times also offers tips on how to find a qualified teacher to guide you through the technique, or you can DIY by picking up a book on the subject. Check out the video for a more detailed explanation from the British Medical Journal.

The Alexander Technique for Back Pain? [Consults Blog]


    The Alexander Technique made a huge difference for me. I was suffering from very, very painful low back pain for over 10 years. Tried everything from chiropractic, to physical therapy - even magnets! Nothing helped until I had a course of lessons with a very talented Alexander Technique teacher which, literally, changed my life for the better. I no longer have any significant amount of pain and, in general, I feel a whole lot better.

    The Alexander Technique website is a great source of information:

    After suffering for 5 years with wrist pain, tendinitis, numbness, etc from long hours at the computer I was almost ready to give up on a career I loved. No doctor could help... I'd seen them all - orthopaedists, neurologists, pain management specialists, and more. They kept wanting to shoot me up with cortisone and telling me to rest. Well, resting doesn't pay the bills. Out of desperation, I turned to the Alexander Technique. The closest instructor was 2 hours away, but I gave it a shot.

    It honestly changed my life. I can now move with an ease and lightness that I'd never experienced. I can now do my job, sitting at the computer without pain. And, I no longer use by $1100 "ergonomic" best-of-the-best chair. I use a $6 IKEA bench. Ha! Go figure! It's not about the chair but how you sit in it.

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