Could the Alexander Technique Relieve Your Chronic Back and Neck Pain?

People who suffer from chronic back or neck pain often find themselves trying a gamut of treatments—medications, massage, physical therapy, spinal injections, chiropractic. One therapy most haven’t explored is the Alexander Technique.

The basic goal of the Alexander Technique is to undo years of tension-building habits to decompress the spine. Could this therapy help your aching back or neck?
Therapist setting a young woman in correct posture.Human touch is an important part of the Alexander Technique. A teacher can help you release pressure in your head, neck, shoulders, and upper back. Photo Credit:

The Alexander Technique: For Actors, Musicians…and Chronic Pain Sufferers?

The Alexander Technique’s roots are not in spinal pain management. When it was developed in the 1890s by Frederick Matthias Alexander, the technique was designed to help combat vocal problems that thwarted Alexander’s acting career.

By looking in a mirror, Alexander identified certain physical habits he had no idea he was doing. He pulled his head back and down, causing pressure on his spine. He stiffened his neck. These habits created unnecessary tension that resulted in Alexander tightening his throat, so he literally lost his voice while performing. With this knowledge, he developed a hands-on approach of releasing this tension not just in the vocal chords but throughout the whole body.

Today, actors and musicians are among the biggest followers of the Alexander Technique, but chronic pain sufferers have found that this little-known form of physical therapy has major benefits for them as well.

How the Alexander Technique De-Pressurizes Your Spine

The Alexander Technique is a skill—it’s like learning to play the guitar or piano, but the instrument you’re learning how to use is yourself.

Inner-ergonomics is one way to think of the Alexander Technique. Instead of adjusting the height of your chair or workstation, it addresses the habitual muscular tension that people hold throughout their bodies. One of the areas people hold the most tension is in the spine, especially the neck.

People constantly put pressure on their neck from postural habits they don’t even realize they’re doing. Pushing your head forward, slumping over, pinning your shoulders back—these neck and upper back postures create pressure that shoots down to the large muscles of the spine. In extreme cases, this habitual downward pressure can pull and change the shape of your spine, leading to degenerative forms of spinal deformity (eg, abnormal kyphosis).

According to the principles of the Alexander Technique, the widely held idea of good posture is as harmful as bad posture. Pinning shoulders back and holding an upright position often comes at the expense of your thoracic (mid-back) and lumbar spines.

Achieving good posture begins with ridding the habitual muscular tension that you don’t even know you’ve created. As tension is released, you begin to stand upright comfortably, without pulling down or pulling back.

While the concept may seem deceivingly simple, the Alexander Technique has research to support its use for chronic back pain. In 2008, the journal BMJ featured a study of nearly 600 chronic pain patients that found that the Alexander technique reduced back pain better than massage or exercise alone. Plus, the effects were lasting—even after as few as 6 lessons.1

How the Alexander Technique Works

The purpose of the Alexander Technique is to correct the postural habits that cause tension. This technique can be done in a class setting, but it’s well-suited for one-on-one-teaching because your postural and movement habits are unique to you. A teacher can help you identify the tension-inducing postures and teach you how to correct them.

Human touch is an important part of the Alexander Technique. Using his or her hands to gently adjust you into a proper upright position, a teacher can help you release pressure in your head, neck, shoulders, and upper back. The focus begins at your neck, but the release of tension reverberates throughout your body.

While the Alexander Technique is a manual (hands on) therapy, it is not manipulation or massage. It uses light touch, so there’s no risk of injury to your spine. Anyone can participate in the Alexander Technique.

While everyone is a candidate, you must be willing to participate in the process for the Alexander Technique to help you. Fortunately, most people know if it’s right during the first lesson.

How to Find an Alexander Technique Teacher Near You

Alexander Technique teachers practice all over the world. To find a teacher in the United States, the American Society for the Alexander Technique (AmSAT) website has a Find a Teacher tool that connects you to AmSAT-approved teachers who’ve undergone the required extensive teacher-training program (3 years and 1,600 hours of training).

After trying countless treatments, people with chronic back and/or neck pain may wonder if a solution exists. Like any treatment, the Alexander Technique offers no guarantees, but you will learn about your postural habits and how to improve them in a safe and gentle environment. Most people feel better during their first lesson and get a good sense if the Alexander Technique is right for them. A qualified teacher will help you correct your harmful posture habits and release habitual tension. In the process, your posture improves, and pain may diminish.

Updated on: 02/15/19
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