Researchers have found that The Alexander Technique is one of the best ways of managing chronic and recurring back pain. It is more effective than massage and exercise, they say. The therapy was tested on 579 patients who received either the standard medical care, massage or 6 or 24 Alexander sessions. Half of the participants in each group were also given a programme of exercises.
The researchers from the universities of Southampton and Bristol and the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique in London found that 24 one to one lessons in the Alexander was the most effective for achieving long term benefits and that 6 lessons followed up with exercise, was nearly as effective in that the patients had fewer painful days and a better quality of life.
The Alexander Technique teaches you that use affects functioning. If you misuse yourself by, for example, acting rashly without thought, stiffening your neck muscles, disturbing the natural balance of the head, hunching your shoulders, holding your breath, collapsing, or holding yourself in a straitjacket of tension, then your general functioning and well-being will inevitably deteriorate.
By learning how to prevent or unlearn these harmful patterns of misuse, you can restore the natural poise and posture you enjoyed as a young child.
Posture is how you hold and move, it is unique to you and can be influenced by your mood, culture and environment.
Your posture is balanced when your head, spine and pelvis are maintained in their natural alignment with optimal muscle effort. Habits, such as leg crossing and arm folding, are what come easiest and strongest. You may not be aware of them or realise the harm that they are doing, and it is difficult to break a habit.
Your core muscles, the deep abdominal and spinal muscles that stabilise your spine automatically with any movement, play a major part in low back pain. Research has shown that with back pain they may become inhibited or weak and need rehabilitating. The back then starts relying on your main movement muscles to stabilise the spine which go into spasm and cause pain.
The Alexander technique and Pilates teach you how to work those core muscles in all your everyday activities so that the spine is supported all the time. We talk about pelvic floor muscles and deep abdominal muscles but because they are muscles that should come into play automatically it is not always easy to activate them.
The main muscle is your transversus abdominus which is the deepest of the four layers of your abdominal muscles. It acts, along with your pelvic floor muscles and your deep back muscles, like a corset or belt to support your back during everyday activities.
Here are some other ways to reduce your risk factors for low back pain, very effectively, with a few easy steps.
1. Stay active
Remember your bodies were made to move and as you move, the joints in your body, including the spine, get the nutrition and circulation they need.
2. Alexander, Pilates and Yoga
These are good forms of exercise techniques, which help to maintain your flexibility as well as improving your ‘core stability’.
- Everyone has their own posture type. However, certain bad habits can actually increase your risk factors for low back pain. When you are sitting or standing you are aiming to maintain the ‘s’ curve of your spine throughout all activities
- When you are sitting, do not slouch. It is important to sit upright well back in your chair, and you can also use a small support, for example a rolled up hand towel, in the small of your back. Your knees and hips should be level and your feet flat on the floor. Use a flat foot rest if your feet do not reach the floor
- It is essential to take regular breaks whether you are sitting in front of the TV, in the car or in the office
- When sleeping, you are also trying to maintain the natural position of the spine. This therefore means you want a mattress that supports you sufficiently but isn’t so hard it doesn’t allow for the natural contours of your body. You can find one such mattress on unclutterer. One test is to put your hand between the small of your back and the mattress. If there is a gap, the mattress is too hard but if you are struggling, the mattress is too soft
- Lie on your side with the lower leg flexed and the upper leg’s ankle curve resting in the arch of the lower foot. The lower arm tucked under the pillow and the curve of the neck well supported by the pillow
4. House work
Obviously this is part of your everyday activities. You still need to consider your back during these activities, because if they are done badly your risk factors are again increased.
- When vacuuming, have the handle extended so you are in an upright position, keep it close to your body and use short sweeping movements
- When ironing, make sure your ironing board is at waist height and your back is straight
- When making beds, do not stoop to tuck in the corners. Bend your knees aiming to keep your back straight
- When cleaning the bath or toilet, ensure you bend your knees, get close to the bath and take regular breaks to prevent a prolonged stress on the back
5. Office ergonomics
- In the office make sure your chair is comfortable and close into your desk
- Your keyboard is directly in front of you and your monitor square on so you don’t have to turn your head to look at it
- Use a document holder so that your work can be closer to you
- Re-arrange the items on your desk so that the things used often are kept closest to you, and the least often furthest away
- Take frequent breaks from your desk to keep your muscles moving and do regular stretches
6. Lifting or handling
One of the main causes of back pain especially at work is lifting or handling objects incorrectly. It is important to:
- Start in a good position, your feet should be apart with one leg slightly forward to maintain balance
- When lifting, let your legs take the strain, bend your back, knees and hips slightly but don’t stoop or squat
- Tighten your stomach muscles to support your back further
- Keep the load close to your waist
- Avoid twisting your back or leaning sideways, especially when your back is bent. Your shoulders should be level and facing in the same direction as your hips. Turning by moving your feet is better than lifting and twisting at the same time
- Keep your head up
- Get help with a heavy load
- Push, don’t pull, if you have to move a heavy object across the floor, it is better to push it rather than pull it
- Distribute the weight evenly, if you are carrying shopping bags or luggage
- Make sure you look after your back, it is so important to keep a good posture, and to keep it strong, stable and mobile