Medical Research into Alexander Technique & Back Pain

The results of the first major scientific trial of the Alexander Technique as an effective treatment for low back pain were published in the British Medical Journal in August 2008.

The Cost of Back Pain

Back pain is notoriously difficult to treat and many people suffer from it for years. 7 out of 10 of us will be affected by it at some point in our lives and itís the biggest cause of sickness absence in the UK. Some of us with severe back pain may not be able to work at all. Itís estimated that back pain accounts for up to 5 million lost working days and costs the economy £5billion. It costs the NHS about £500m a year.

The personal, individual cost is also high -

  • You only have one spine and it wears out more quickly than the rest of you
  • It can affect your whole life, not just work, because you may become limited in your activities as well as having the pain
  • You may become reliant on pain-killers or expensive treatments in order to manage

How the Trial Was Carried Out and What it Found

The trial was funded by the Medical Research Council and carried out by Professor Paul Little and colleagues at the University of Southampton, who worked with researchers from Bristol University and the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT).

64 GP surgeries from the south and west randomly selected 579 patients who had chronic or recurrent back pain. The patients were divided into 8 treatment groups which offered different combinations of treatment - normal care, massage, exercise & either 6 or 24 Alexander Technique lessons.

When the researchers compared the individual groups after a year, they discovered that:

  • Massage relieved the pain for the first 3 months, but the benefit didnít last
  • Those patients who had the massage still reported 21 days of back pain over a month by the end of a year
  • The patients who had the Alexander Technique lessons reported less pain and an ability to do more by the end of the year
  • Those who had 24 lessons reported only 3 days of back pain over a month by the end of the year
  • Those who combined 6 lessons with a daily 30 minute exercise routine did almost as well
  • In addition, the Alexander Technique group reported improved quality of life

Professor Little said that the trial had produced good enough evidence for people to take the Alexander Technique seriously as a significant step forward in the long-term management of low back pain.

(Information extracted from ďRandomised controlled trial of Alexander technique lessons, exercise, and massage (ATEAM) for chronic and recurrent back pain: economic evaluationĒ BMJ 2008;337:a884. Published 19/08/08.

Itís Worth Remembering…

This trial was about back pain - but the Alexander Technique is not just about backs and posture. Alexander Technique also helps with emotional difficulties and the acceptance and management of pain and change.

"The Alexander Technique enabled me to listen to my body. By exploring energy points and learning important relaxation techniques, I have been able to control longterm pain. I employ the Alexander Technique every day." (SH Somerset)