GP Info

GP Info About Alexander Technique.

If you’re a GP, or work in healthcare, here’s everything you need to know about the Alexander Technique….

Can the Alexander Technique help with back pain?

Yes, significantly.

A set of 24 Alexander Technique lessons resulted in an 86% reduction in days in pain (from 21 days average across the group to just 3). A set of just 6 Alexander Technique lessons followed by exercise was 72% as effective as this, reducing days with back pain by half. These improvements still held after one year.

A follow-up study found initially around 40% of both groups had a favourable attitude to the various interventions offered, but after three months 66% of patients had a positive attitude to the Alexander technique and this compared with 44% of the patients receiving an exercise prescription. They also found fewer patients reported barriers to learning the Alexander Technique as it ‘made sense’ and could be practiced while carrying out everyday activities or relaxing.

Professor Lucy Yardley, professor of health psychology at the University of Southampton, said: ‘Using the Alexander Technique was viewed as effective by most patients’.

Backcare, the charity for healthier backs, rates Alexander Technique as the most effective of all the treatments reviewed.

Can the Alexander Technique help with neck pain?

Whilst there is no current clinical evidence, there is ongoing a new clinical trial run by the University of York, funded by a grant of £720,000 from Arthritis Research UK. The ATLAS trial will look at the effectiveness of the techniques in alleviating neck pain (Alexander Technique and Acupuncture) compared with normal GP care.

What’s it got to do with posture?

The Alexander Technique focuses on how the head, neck and back work together; when neck tension is reduced, the head no longer compresses the spine, and the spine is free to lengthen. This results in improved posture and better balance. An eight-week pilot study reported in the Journal of Gerontology found balance improvements in a group of 65-year-old women completing just two sessions a week.

How can I check the Alexander Technique teacher I refer to is well qualified?

All of the studies I mention are carried out using STAT (The Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique) trained practitioners (teachers). All STAT members have studied full-time for three years to qualify as Alexander Technique teachers. I’m a member of STAT, the CNHC, am fully qualified and insured.

Short shrift should be given to any osteopath, chiropractor, masseur, physio or therapist who claims to offer Alexander Technique but hasn’t been fully trained, as they have probably picked a little up from a qualified teacher and are attempting to pass on handy hints gleaned in their lessons – unlikely to be of significant benefit. The only proven benefit is for 1:1 lessons with a registered teacher (STAT is the only body to publish a register). Further, as far as I am aware, “there is no convincing RTC evidence that physiotherapy treatment has long term benefit in chronic or recurrent nonspecific low back pain.

Are cheaper group classes as good value as one-to-one lessons?

No clinical evidence exists at present from group lessons. However James has had excellent results teaching in group situations at The University of Manchester.

Is Alexander Technique NICE recommended?

Yes. The NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) guidelines on Low Back Pain published in May 2009 recommend the Alexander Technique as an exercise. The guidelines include recommending a one-to-one exercise programme of up to 8 sessions in 12 weeks.The advice applies to adults (aged 18 or older) who have had non-specific low back pain, with or without pain in the upper leg (above the knee), for between 6 weeks and 12 months.

Are there any Alexander Technique exercises I can recommend?

No. The Alexander Technique is a taught process of bodily awareness, that the patient then follows in the actions of everyday life, like sitting, standing, driving, cooking and so on. Alexander Technique lessons involve continuous personalised assessment of the individual patterns of habitual musculoskeletal use when stationary and in movement, paying particular attention to releasing head, neck, and spinal muscle tension. The Alexander Technique Teacher provides verbal and hand contact to improve musculoskeletal use.

Is there proof of cost effectiveness?

Yes. In an economic evaluation published in the British Medical Journal the researchers found an 85% chance a short course of Alexander technique would prove cost-effective, within a QALY threshold of £20,000.