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A 100 Year Old Technique for Relief from Back Pain

A new study from researchers at the University of Southampton and the University of Bristol in the UK confirm that a technique developed at the end of the 19th century may provide relief from chronic back pain.

The therapy is called the "Alexander technique" after its inventor, Frederick Alexander. Alexander was a Shakespearean actor from Australia who developed the unique series of movements and postures to align muscles in the head, neck and back.

For the study, published in the August issue of the British Medical Journal, researchers recruited 579 people with recurring lower back pain. The participants were divided into four groups and randomly assigned a therapy thought to combat chronic back pain. The first group underwent normal care (control), the second received six massage sessions, the third practiced six lessons of the Alexander technique while the fourth received 24 lessons.

The participants completed three questionnaires about how back pain affected their daily activities. The first was given at the beginning of the study, the second after three months and the final questionnaire was given one year after the study began.

Researchers used the Roland Morris disability score to quantify the number of activities impaired by pain. After one year, the group that received 24 Alexander technique lessons experienced just three days of pain per month vs 21 days of pain in the control group. The six lesson group experienced 11 days of pain while the massage group saw 14.

One author of the study believes that the Alexander technique benefits are associated with strengthened postural muscles, improved flexibility and decompressing of the spine as a result of the therapy.

Source: BMJ. 2008 Aug 19;337:a884. doi: 10.1136/bmj.a884.
Primary Care Group, Community Clinical Sciences Division, University of Southampton, Aldermoor Health Centre, Southampton SO16 5ST. psl3@soton.ac.uk
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