Have you seen your friends or relatives start to hunch or form a small hump on their back?
Posture changes can be a sign of Osteoporosis or Parkinsons. Osteoporosis is a medical condition in which the bones become brittle and fragile from loss of tissue. These are typically as a result of hormonal changes, or deficiency of calcium or vitamin D. Similarly, Parkinson’s Disease is a progressive disease of the nervous system. It is marked by tremor, muscular rigidity, and slow, imprecise movement, chiefly affecting middle-aged and elderly people. Both diseases cause your body to move and cope with the changes that occur as the disease progresses. Posture change can be a rapid progression with a full spinal curve developing within 2 years of the first diagnosis.
The Alexander Technique – Changing Posture in Osteoporosis and Parkinsons
The founder of the Alexander Technique (AT), Frederick Matthias Alexander, was originally developed by an actor to change his breathing to help with his voice. He soon came to realise the habits he had developed were affecting his posture. From this, he developed a theory that if people could be taught to unlearn these habits then they could stop unnecessary levels of muscular and mental tension in their everyday activities. The AT also works with the whole relationship between the head, neck and back. It works by getting them to improve their coordination. Many people benefit from strengthening postural muscles and in particular, those with spinal fractures will benefit from improved posture control. It’s based on the premise of good postural alignment and strengthening core muscles around the spine.
Alexander Technique and the Evidence
Getting straight to the point, there has been little in the way of research to prove how effective the AT is. That’s not to say there isn’t any. The British Medical Journal (BMJ, 2008) concluded that one to one lessons in AT from registered teachers have long-term benefits for patients with chronic back pain. Lessons in AT still had a beneficial effect on pain and functioning after 12 months. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence provide healthcare professionals with best practice and guidance. They recommended the AT for Non-pharmacological management of motor and non-motor symptoms in their guidelines for Parkinson’s Disease in adults. For people looking for a drug-free approach to dealing with back pain and posture, the Alexander Technique will be of interest to those affected by osteoporosis, Parkinson’s disease, spinal fractures and other fractures. People genuinely do feel a release of pain from learning the technique.
What could you expect in a lesson?
As the AT is all about learning and unlearning certain postural behaviour and movement habits picked up through a lifetime. Therefore, AT teachers refer to their sessions as lessons. They also call themselves teachers rather than therapists. From a clients perspective, some are nervous about the risks that doing the Alexander Technique would have on their pain problems. Korina Biggs, an AT Teacher from Brighton, explains the risks brilliantly. In an article in Osteoporosis News, she states “Alexander work is so gentle, so there are no real dangers. When I meet a new client we never put them out of their comfort zone. Once I start work with them, they will start to feel lighter, stand taller and breathe more easily. I have had success in terms of helping people to stand up. I’ve had people lengthen and I’ve also found that doing AT positively affects their confidence and mood.”
Overall this blog could apply to anyone who is looking to use the AT for any reason. However, the importance of this article is to inform friends, family members or people with Osteoporosis or Parkinson’s that the earlier they can see an AT teacher the better chance they have of coping with their symptoms and enjoy a more fuller life because of this.
Richard is an Alexander Technique Teacher in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria and Preston, Lancashire. He has been practising since 2002.