Pain Management using Alexander Technique
Essential principles of the Alexander Technique
The essential principle is that you are working in partnership and dialogue with your body instead of animosity and distrust.
Don’t judge, push; impose all the oughts and shoulds. If you start getting the early warning signals of pain from your body do something about it – before they get overwhealming..
- If the body feels vulnerable – protect it.
- If it feels tired – rest it.
- If it feels frozen out – reconnect with it.
- Pay attention to it and learn to respond to its needs. This takes time and a listening, caring attitude.
Trust your Body Wisdom
Trust your “body wisdom” and the ability of the body to return to homeostasis. If it is out of alignment the way we often work in the A.T. is to visualise and feel the central balance line of the body from the crown of the head down to the soles of the feet– often with small swaying movements – and with time and an observing, non-judgmental attitude the body will rebalance itself and release any over-tensed muscles.
Another important balance point is where the skull balances on top of the spinal column at the atlanto-occipital joint. You can learn small balancing movements of the head, up and down and from side to side using the smaller sub-occipital muscles (rather than the larger trapesius muscles) and as a result you can fine tune the balance and increase your control of the small adjusting movements of the head on top of the spinal column. This improved balance of the head then has a beneficial knock-on effect all the way down the spine to the pelvis.
Drugs and Pain Killers (Analgesics)
These are sensible to a certain extent, and obviously the anti-inflammatory benefits of Ibuprofen are excellent, but pain killers can also mask things so that you aren’t dealing with the real issues, and they may also allow you to push on with activities and movement patterns that are actually causing further damage. (This then causes an escalating spiral of damage and increased pain necessitating even higher doses of pain killers).
So the message would be – be sensible and use them when necessary, but please be aware of any movement patterns or activities (however innocent they seem) that are actually contributing to the continuation of the problem, and avoid them.
The Value of Analgesic Medication
Of course, pain-killing drugs have great value in themselves, especially in cases of acute injury or temporary illness. However, present clinical experience demonstrates quite clearly that the prolonged use of drugs leads to serious complications, including physical dependence.
In fact, unanimous reports from competent pain-management centers document the fact that improvement of physical and mental conditions in chronic-pain patients is often possible only after they have undergone a program of drug detoxification.
This is where the use of complimentary treatments like Alexander Technique or acupuncture can be of great benefit because they can have a soothing, pain reducing effect and do not lead to any form of physical dependence.
Emotional reactions and positive thinking
After every injury there is always an emotional reaction. Even if it was a pure accident, e.g, a branch falls from a tree and lands on your head during a storm there are still emotional reactions of shock, fear and questions like why me ? These need dealing with. Also many forms of back pain and muscular tension have been demonstrated to be linked to stress factors in our lives, e.g., the shoulders is where many people carry their stress and tension. Just being aware of these connections and talking about them can be beneficial.
You are not your thoughts and emotions, you can stand back and observe your thoughts and emotions from a space of pure consciousness. Even in painful situations there is a huge pay off to this. E.g. if you have an injury you tend to tense the muscles around it to protect it. This is natural and beneficial in the early stages of an injury. In the later stages it becomes a harmful habit that has all sorts of negative repercussions. The muscular tension can reduce the blood flow to the injured part, thus significantly slowing down the healing process. Also if you believe in the flow of “chi energy” (as an acupuncturist would) or the flow of “directions” (as an A.T. teacher would) then this muscular tension will also block/reduce the flow of the inner healing and regenerating life energy flow.
Pain Messages and the Central Nervous System
In addition constant pain messages overload the central nervous system and can cause it to give unreliable messages. E.g., certain spinal neurons, after being exposed repeatedly to offending stimuli, are known to remain active even after the stimulation has been removed. In other words, these peculiar spinal neurons can be “programmed” to evoke pain, and thus cause chronic suffering that medicine has found very difficult to cure with conventional methods.
Alexander Technique and the Reduction of Muscle Tension
The A.T. has an answer for reducing muscular over-tension and creating more space in the body for the healing flow of increased blood circulation and life energy. This is the basic technique of giving “directions combined with inhibition”.
You visualize a connecting line or space, e.g. the line from the crown of the head down to the sitting bones or the soles of the feet, and then inhibit all your habitual thoughts and reactions. What this boils down to is just observing what is with a non-judgmental attitude. This attitude of mental/emotional detachment gives room for muscular release and real physiological healing to take place. Things can shift and change and you can break out of the downward spiral of pain/anxiety/stress.
Positive Thinking and the Alexander Technique
A relatively new form of therapy, using Alexander Technique as a form of pain control, attempts to break this “bad habit” of chronic pain by replacing it with “good habits” of emotional control, positive thinking, proper posture, visualization and affirmation, and conscious relaxation
Clinical Research and the Alexander Technique
Clinical research has shown that physiological therapy—deep and vigorous massage, heat or ice packs, or electrical stimulation—helps to reduce pain. However, it has been found that no technique of external physiological treatment may be expected to provide a cure for chronic pain unless the patient commits himself or herself to systematic inner changes in thoughts and behavior. By using these principles, I have seen how the patients own efforts can contribute to the healing process and speed it up by complimenting other forms of treatment that are being given.
The Alexander Strategy for Dealing With Pain
Deep relaxation, which is one of the fundamental principles of the Alexander Technique, has been found effective in helping to overcome pain by reducing muscular tension, a component of the vicious circle of chronic pain. Research has shown that relaxation also helps to free the patient from stress and anxiety, which aggravate pain by upsetting the body’s hormone balance. One of the most widely used A.T. methods is to become aware of and to visualise the central balance line whilst encouraging the postural muscles to relax around that central core.
Visualisation and Affirmation and the Alexander Technique
Other specific techniques of that pain specialists are finding helpful include visualisation and affirmation. For example, someone suffering from a headache might picture his or her head in a vise that is gradually being loosened. Mental reconstruction of a pain-relieving procedure, thorough massage or a whirlpool treatment, is also effective.
Repeating Phrases in the Alexander Technique
Repeating phrases that suggest feelings of warmth and heaviness in each body part, along with affirmations of peace and calmness, has been demonstrated to be valuable in pain control, particularly for vascular pain problems and migraine headaches.
Research has also shown that many cases of chronic pain formerly thought to require surgery can be corrected by a balanced program of physical conditioning. The resulting correction of postural and walking defects, as well as increased endurance, has been shown to contribute significantly to control of painful conditions. Walking and the postural improvement as taught in the Alexander Technique, can be especially helpful.
Research on the Alexander Technique at the University of Miami
Doctors at the University of Miami found that patients who prepared for back surgery by following a prescribed course of physical exercises often improved so much that surgery became unnecessary, according to US News and World Report, June 29 1987. This program gave an 86% success rate overall in treating more than 7,000 patients.
Link to STAT (Society of Teachers of Alexander technique)
Further information on the Alexander Technique
Contact Details for Alex Maunder Alexander Technique Teacher
Mr. Alex Maunder has offices at
3 Siamese Mews, London N3 2LD
Tel 020 8346 9204