Back Pain Survey

In the summer of 2008 the results of a study of patients with chronic back pain was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ). This journal goes to all doctors in the UK and the article compares the effectiveness of lessons in the Alexander Technique, clinical massage and doctor prescribed treatment.

The text reproduced below is from a press release put out by the Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique (STAT). More information can be obtained from the STAT web page which has links to the complete BMJ article and a video produced by the BMJ on the Alexander Technique.

Relief for Chronic Back Pain Sufferers

Clinical Trial shows Alexander Technique lessons are effective

Clinical trial results published in the BMJ show that Alexander Technique lessons provide long-term benefit

The trial results clearly show that 24 one-to-one lessons in the Alexander Technique led to important improvements in function, quality of life and reduction of days in pain for the patients. Following 24 Alexander Technique lessons the average number of activities limited by back pain had fallen by 42%. The number of days in pain was only three per month compared with 21 days in pain in the control group, one year after the trial started.

At three months after the trial started, the group randomly allocated 24 Alexander Technique lessons reported eight days in pain, and the group allocated six lessons reported 13 days in pain in the past month, compared to the control group which reported 24 days in pain. Both Alexander Technique groups showed an improvement in function at three months.

This trial is one of the few major studies to show significant long-term benefits for patients with chronic non-specific low-back pain. 579 patients were involved in a multicentre clinical trial lead by GP researcher Professor Paul Little, University of Southampton, and GP Professor Debbie Sharp, Bristol University, and funded by the Medical Research Council and the NHS Research and Development Fund. The trial assessed benefits provided by Alexander Technique lessons, classical massage and normal GP care. Half the patients allocated to each intervention also received a GP prescription for general aerobic exercise (30 minutes of brisk walking or the equivalent each day).

Of all the approaches tested, 24 Alexander Technique lessons, at least half taken within the first three months of the trial, proved to be the most beneficial.

Significantly, a series of six Alexander Technique lessons followed by GP-prescribed exercise was about 70% as beneficial as 24 Alexander Technique lessons alone

There were no adverse events recorded by any of the participants allocated to the series of six or 24 Alexander Technique lessons.

Since the effect of massage on activities was no longer significant by one year, whereas the effect of Alexander Technique lessons was maintained, the trial authors concluded that the long-term benefits of taking Alexander Technique lessons are unlikely to be due to placebo effects of attention and touch and more likely to be due to active learning of the Technique.

Kamal Thapen, chair of The Society of Teacher of the Alexander Technique (STAT) says: “For over 100 years people from all walks of life have learned the Alexander Technique to overcome back pain. We are delighted that this major clinical study now demonstrates that Alexander Technique lessons are effective. One-to-one lessons, provided by STAT teachers, taught trial participants to improve body use, natural balance, co-ordination and movement skills, and to recognise and avoid poor movement habits that cause or aggravate their pain.”

The price of back pain

Non-specific back pain accounts for up to five million lost working days per year, its overall cost on the NHS, business and the economy being £5 billion a year. It is one of the most common conditions managed in primary care, a common cause of disability and affects general well-being and quality of life.

Benefits of Alexander Technique lessons

The Alexander Technique is a taught self-help method that helps people recognise, understand, and avoid poor habits affecting postural tone and neuromuscular coordination. Lessons involve an individualised approach designed to provide lifelong skills for self care that can lead to a wide variety of benefits.

“I would not be living an independent life now as my back would have prevented this. I wish I had discovered the Alexander Technique sooner. I was told that my back was not bad enough to operate on yet. That was at least 15 years ago!”
Retired female, 65, STAT Pupil Survey 2006