Medical information

 

The Alexander Technique has been established internationally for more than 100 years and has had support from prominent physicians and surgeons ever since its inception. Most evidence for the Alexander Technique consists of anecdotal personal accounts over the past hundred years.

Doctors who are well-informed about the Technique are happy to refer their patients to AT teachers, and such referrals are on the increase as doctors gain experience of how effective a course of lessons can be in the management of many disorders.

A number of doctors, physiotherapists and even dentists have been so impressed by the work, they have trained as Alexander teachers themselves! However, while the Alexander Technique has not yet been extensively verified in peer-reviewed scientific journals, there is some scientific and clinical evidence that it is effective.

One of the first of these was Wilfred Barlow, a medical doctor and consultant Rheumatologist at Guy’s hospital in London, who was taught by Alexander himself. To try to assess how effective the Alexander Technique was, he took extensive photographs to document the progress of his clients. For example, the two photographs on the right show a before and after of a man who had been suffering from tension headaches.

Careful comparison of the two photographs shows that his shoulders have dropped and his arms consequently hang lower, yet he stands taller than before. His buttocks and back are also wider, and his shoulder blades have spread apart. His whole body appears to be holding less muscular tension.

Barlow also measured levels of muscular tension using electromyography. The series of graphs on the next page shows the improvement in the release of a client’s neck muscles over time. In graph (a) the client initially does not respond to the guidance of the teacher. In (b) the muscles now respond by releasing, but only while the teacher’s hands are actually guiding the neck. By (c) the neck tension has already reduced, and it reduces further while the teacher is giving guidance, but some tension returns as soon as the teacher stops helping. By (d), the client is able to maintain the improvement brought about by the teacher, and in (e) this improvement continues without the need for further prompting from the teacher.

While many doctors and respected scientists have also endorsed the Alexander Technique, there has been little funding available to produce a thorough body of experimental research. The research that has been done so far has been encouraging, but has not involved many large-scale randomised and carefully controlled trials. As the technique takes so long to produce visible results, studies would have to continue over a long period, making the research costly. The long periods make it harder to control other variables which could affect results.

However, recent clinical trial results published in the British Medical Journal (August, 2008) concluded that Alexander Technique lessons proved the most effective, and provided long term benefits to chronic back pain sufferers. See http://www.bmj.com/content/337/bmj.a884.full for details of the study.

 Posted by at 12:37 pm