Relief for Chronic Back Pain

Woman with back pain

Back problems are among the most common chronic conditions in Canada. Four out of five adults will experience at least one episode of back pain at some time in their lives. It can be highly disabling, it may cause significant work loss, and reduce the quality of life for the individual.

Over the years that I have been teaching the Alexander Technique, I estimate that 75% of my students come because of pain. It could be back or neck pain, pain from injuries that have been slow to recover or pain from working at the computer for long hours. Singers, actors, musicians, dancers or people who just want to develop more self-awareness and self-growth make up the rest.

Back pain can occur at any point of the spine, and is characterized by a range of symptoms including pain, muscle tension or stiffness, weakness in the legs or feet, and a possible tingling or burning sensation. It is often caused by strain on muscles and ligaments that support the spine. Lower back problems are most common, because it bears the most weight and physical stress. The discs in the lumbar spine are often subjected to constant pressure by exaggerated bending and postural distortion which can impinge on the spinal cord or one of its outlet nerves. It may result not only in back pain but also in pain travelling down the leg. This condition is usually known as “sciatica”.

If you have back pain and you would like to try the Alexander Technique, it is important to ask why you have back pain. There are many causes for back pain such as infections or injuries. Please consult your doctor, if your pain is sudden or acute. Teachers of the Alexander Technique are not trained in diagnosing your issue medically. If you are in doubt, see your GP.

Secondly, you may ask yourself, if your pain is life-style related. In most cases, it is. This is when the Alexander Technique can help you. For instance, sitting all day at the computer with poor posture can contribute to back pain. Even sports activities such as running, if done badly, make pain more likely. Unconsciously, we often use too much effort in our daily activities. Ongoing postural habits are often the causing or contributing factor for many back problems.

Back pain tends to be felt in on local area, either lower back, mid back or upper back. But the misuse contributing to the pain is not just a local problem. It is global and involves all of you. If you have lower back pain, for instance, you may have stiff hips, and you may unconsciously pull your legs into your pelvis. You may also tighten your neck and slouch forward with your whole back. In an Alexander Technique session, you learn to develop a better understanding of what you are doing.

You practice to stop harmful ways of moving and direct yourself in a way that allows more lengthening and widening in the body. This process involves your mind and your body. You learn to let go of long held tension and change your habitual posture and movements. This will result in relief of back pain. As your whole body gets into more balance, your back pain is alleviated. People who come for back pain are often delighted to find out that the Alexander Technique also has an effect on other aspects of their life as it might help them with rock climbing or running, with painting, parenting or decision making. Many Alexander students also experience less stress and more energy during the day!

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