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The University of Southampton
Southampton Statistical Sciences Research Institute

Research project: Benefits of the Alexander Technique for sufferers with low back pain

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A major study, funded by the Medical Research Council, has found for the first time that the Alexander Technique can provide long-term benefit for people with chronic or recurrent low back pain.

A team including Professors Paul Little (School of Medicine), Peter Smith (S3RI) and Debbie Sharp (University of Bristol) has shown that back pain can be reduced by the teaching of life-long self-care skills that help people recognise, understand and avoid poor habits affecting posture and neuromuscular co-ordination.

The multi-centre clinical trial involved 579 patients and compared 24 Alexander Technique lessons, six Alexander Technique lessons, six sessions of classical massage and normal GP care. Half of the patients allocated to each of these groups also received a GP prescription for aerobic exercise (30 minutes of brisk walking or the equivalent each day), followed by behavioural counselling from a practice nurse. The study showed that 24 Alexander Technique lessons led to important improvements in function, quality of life and a reduction in the number of days the patients suffered pain.

One year after the trial started, the average number of activities limited by back pain had fallen by 42 per cent, and the number of days in pain was only three a month compared with 21 days in the control group. Massage also helped over the three months but the effect on activities was no longer significant after one year. Exercise prescription alone had significant but modest effects on activities at both three and 12 months. However, a series of six Alexander Technique lessons followed by GP-prescribed exercise was about 70 per cent as beneficial as 24 Alexander Technique lessons at one year.

The findings from the research have been published in the British Medical Journal in an article entitled:

Randomised controlled trial of Alexander Techique lessons, exercise and massage (ATEAM) for chronic and recurrent back pain


Related research groups

Primary Care, Population Sciences and Medical Education
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