COMPANION

Back Problems

The term ‘back problems’ here includes back pain, disability, injury, and deformity.

History

Alexander only makes passing reference to back problems, mainly because Alexander emphasizes the educational aspect of the Technique, but probably also because historically low back pain only became a prominent problem after World War II.[1] Since the 1990s most introductory books to the Alexander Technique would mention the Technique as a beneficial component for people with back problems.

The ATEAM study published in 2008 in the British Medical Journal was an important milestone in providing scientific evidence for the effectiveness of the Alexander Technique for the specific problem of low back pain.

Literature

There are only two references in Alexander’s writings to people with back problems, but mainly for the purpose of criticizing remedial exercises: 1. a young girl with spinal curvature in the early days of teaching in Sydney,[2] and 2. a pupil who had been treated by ‘a well known specialist in Boston’.[3]

Dr Wilfred Barlow points out the shortcomings of traditional approaches to back problems in a 1947 article, ‘Anxiety and Muscle Tension’.[4] He also discusses some case histories which include people with back pain in several of his papers.[5] [6] [7] In his 1973 The Alexander Principle he cites statistics on back pain: ‘Over half the adult population experience severe lower back and sciatic pain’ [8] – and similar statistics would become commonplace in later books on the Alexander Technique.

Eric de Peyer wrote specifically on the Alexander Technique for back problems (c. 1963):

If, as often happens, people have aches and pains which have defeated ordinary medical procedures it may be because a habit of muscular tension and misuse has been formed which needs to be unlearned. A great deal of chronic backache is of this kind.[9]

Today much introductory material to the Alexander Technique contains references to the potential benefits of the Technique to back pain and back ache.

Research

The ATEAM study, published in the British Medical Journal in 2008, followed 579 patients over the course of a year. The study found that Alexander Technique lessons provided benefit to patients in terms of back pain relief and reducing recurrent back pain.[10]

‘Hope for chronic back pain sufferers - The MRC ATEAM trial’ by Paul Little provides an overview of the origins, the methods, the recruitment, and other details of the setting up and running of a large trial, as well as a summary of the results.[11]

Books

  • Free Yourself from Back Pain by Noel Kingsley is an introduction to the Alexander Technique with an emphasis on dealing with back pain.[12] The ATEAM study also led to other books specifically using the Alexander Technique for back pain.[13] [14]
  • Back Pain Solutions by Bruce I. Kodish contains a variety of ways of dealing with back pain and the Alexander Technique is allocated 10 pages.[15]
  • Change Your Posture, Change Your Life by Richard Brennan; on how the Alexander Technique can combat back pain, tension and stress.[16]
  • The Posture Workbook by Carolyn Nicholls; on freeing yourself from back, neck and shoulder pain with the Alexander Technique.[17]
  • It’s Your Fault by Wendy Coblentz is an autobiography of an eight year search for a cure for severe pain back, going through various medical procedures and alternative health therapies, and ending up with the Alexander Technique.[18]
  • Back in Balance by Richard Brennan; on using the Alexander Technique to combat neck, shoulder and back pain.[19]
  • My Back’s Knackered! What can I do about it? by Dai Richards contains advice on dealing with back pain - managing, controlling and preventing the pain in everyday life – based on ideas from the Alexander Technique.[20]

Articles

  • ‘Teaching to back pain’ by Kitty Breen is on teaching people with back pain, on her ‘The Educated Back™’ programme, including a list of ideas and techniques she has found useful, and further observations.[21]

See also Pain, Research into benefits of the Alexander Technique.

References

[1] ‘An historical perspective on low back pain and disability’ by David B. Allan, Gordon Waddell in Acta Orthopaedica Scandinavica (1989) 60:sup234, 1-23, DOI: 10.3109/17453678909153916.
[2] ‘Autobiographical Sketch’ in Articles and Lectures by F. Matthias Alexander, edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (Mouritz, 1995), p. 239.
[3] The Use of the Self by F. Matthias Alexander (Methuen, 1932), p. 108.
[4] ‘Anxiety and Muscle Tension’ (1947) in Postural Homeostasis by Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2014), pp. 38-39.
[5] ‘Postural Homeostasis’ (1952) in Postural Homeostasis by Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2014), pp. 79-96.
[6] ‘Posture and the Resting State’ (1954) in Postural Homeostasis by Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2014), pp. 98-114.
[7] ‘Anxiety and Muscle-Tension Pain’ (1959) in Postural Homeostasis by Wilfred Barlow (Mouritz, 2014), pp. 173-193.
[8] The Alexander Principle by Wilfred Barlow (Gollancz, 1973), p. 83.
[9] ‘The Alexander Technique and its value in back disorders’ by Eric de Peyer (Author, undated pamphlet, 1963?), p. 1.
[10] Paul Little et al., ‘Randomised controlled trial of Alexander technique (AT) lessons, exercise, and massage (ATEAM) for chronic and recurrent back pain’, British Medical Journal, August 19, 2008.
[11] ‘Hope for chronic back pain sufferers - The MRC ATEAM trial’ by Paul Little (2006) in The Alexander Journal no. 22 edited by Francsca Greenoak (STAT, 2008), pp. 2–12.
[12] Free Yourself from Back Pain by Noel Kingsley (Kyle Cathie, 2011).
[13] Beat Back Pain with Alexander Technique by Richard Craze (Hodder Education, 2010).
[14] Banish Back Pain with Alexander Technique by Richard Craze (Hodder Education, 2011).
[15] Back Pain Solutions by Bruce I. Kodish (Extensional Publishing, 2001).
[16] Change Your Posture, Change Your Life by Richard Brennan (Watkins Publishing, 2012).
[17] The Posture Workbook by Carolyn Nicholls (D&B Publishing, 2012).
[18] It’s Your Fault – My Journey Through Back Pain, a Teenager and Self-Discovery by Wendy Coblentz (Mill City Press, 2013).
[19] Back In Balance – Use the Alexander Technique to Combat Neck, Shoulder and Back Pain by Richard Brennan (Watkins Publishing, 2013).
[20] My back's knackered! What can I do about it? by Dai Richards (Blurb, 2014).
[21] ‘Teaching to back pain’ by Kitty Breen in The Congress Papers 2008, From Generation to Generation Vol. 1 edited by Jean M. O. Fischer (STATBooks, 2009), pp. 62–87.