Simple, no-drug way to ease back pain

March 27, 2009 12:50:43 PM PDT
There is a surprisingly simple technique that is getting good results. Many actors, dancers, singers, and musicians are already familiar with the Alexander Technique. And it's now moving into the mainstream. WEB EXTRA: See demonstrations of the Alexander Technique

Charlotte Keenan of Doylestown, Pennsylvania, loves being a researcher - but not what all the sitting has done to her back.

"I do a lot of my day sitting. I would get up like this, and the pain would be so bad i would walk along like a little old lady," Charlotte said as she demonstrated for Action News.

But last fall, she spotted an article online about a treatment called the Alexander technique.

British researchers say 6 sessions of the Alexander technique ease back pain better than standard physical therapy.

So Charlotte began working with Brooke Liebe, a certified Alexander Technique instructor.

"You're allowing your back to be free," Lieb says, as she works with Charlotte, adjusting the position her back and neck as she stood.

The Technique is based on being aware of how our bodies are built, and how they move naturally.

More than a century ago, T.M. Alexander, a Shakespearean actor, created it after realizing he was putting so much tension ON his body, he lost his voice. He began studying how humans did their daily task, and what they could do wrong, to cause tension.

Today, actors, opera singers, and dancers routinely study it during their training.

Lieb says many people over-tense muscles, and put their spine into stressful positions, causing pain.

She says, "No circulation is getting in there, and no blood, and we're tired and we're sore."

And she ticked off the many ways we do this to our bodies.

"If your chair is too low, you can cause your back to either overarch or underarch. Operating a mouse, handwriting, typing, sitting down or standing up from a chair, sleeping strangely, jogging, leaning over to brush your teeth, putting on your mascara - all are motions we can do by compressing and shortening, or we can do by lenghtening and expanding, and getting more space," said Lieb.

So with each session, students learn more natural ways to sit, stand, get in & out of chairs, and even get out of bed.

While it won't help everyone's back pain, Lieb says 95-percent of her students notice results after the first lesson.

To further test the Alexander technique, we enlisted Marty & Liz DeNinno, who run Pinnacle Irrigation, in Haddonfield, New Jersey.

Liz says, "Marty runs the field, I run the office."

Each have their own aches and pains.

Marty says, "Usually the lower back, the back of my legs."

Liz, "I can definitely feel it in my tailbone. Sometimes, I wind up with a headache."

After watching the DeNinno's work, certified instructor Ariel Weiss suggested Liz lower her chair slightly, to give her feet and knees the proper angle.

Weiss also lowered her keyboard, and added a pillow to help straighten Liz' spine.

Plus, she showed her a better way to make movements, such as reaching for the phone.

Weiss tells Liz, "We lead with our head, and let our body follow."

She also helped Liz relax her typing, aimed at doing the same task, but with less energy.

Weiss said the goal is simple, "You will get your work done, actually m ore efficiently, and feel better at the end of the day."

She explains, "I am helping people learn about their own physical selves, and I'm teaching them to understand the relationship between how they think, and how they move."

Outside, Weiss showed Marty how to put less stress on his neck for digging.

She told him, "Instead of being hunched over like that, a little more like that."

"Yeah," he said with a smile.

She also showed him how to pick up items, taking the spine in its natural movement, without putting stress into his neck.

"Your head's going to roll foward, but in a lengthening direction up off your spine," she says as she guides the movement.

"Oh, that tool box felt much lighter," Marty remarked.

In the past week, Liz & Marty say they've noticed changes.

Liz says, "I'm not reaching, and extending my body unnecessarily, and causing more aches and pains. I'm not as stressed anymore."

Marty has noticed he has more energy, "At the end of the day, I'm not as ready to crash on the couch."

Weiss works with them for a second lesson, fine-tuning some movements. She helped Liz relax her arms further during typing, "Let those elbows just fall away from your shoulders."

Marty says he's passed the lessons along to his workers.

"At the end of the day, they feel a little bit better. If we can get through the spring without a lot of the aches and pains we normally have, the guys will be a lot happier to come to work, even if they know we have a lot of digging to do," he says.

Weiss says she's seen a surprising trend - more young people are in pain.

"Kids are sitting in front of computers, computer games, more and more. They are carrying back packs which are way too heavy. To see that in a 16-year-old, who says they've felt that way for years, is a bit shocking. So that is a trend I've seen.

In the 4 months Charlotte has been practicing the Alexander Technique, she's discovered movements that contribute to her back pain. One was to lean forward onto her desk on one elbow, to concentrate on the computer. She discovered it was causing her to overreach and twist her spine.

She's made adjustments in her movements and is now almost pain-free.

She told us, "The pain has dramatically lessened. It's just amazing."

Find a certified instructor. We have links on our website, plus more of our interviews, and an Alexander Tecnique demonstration.

Prices vary per instructor. Ariel Weiss charges $70 for a 45-minute session.

For more information, or to find an instructor, go to www.alexandertechnique.com.

To learn more about certified instructor Ariel Weiss, go to www.alexandertechniquephiladelphia.com.

For more information on certified instructor Brooke Lieb, go to www.brookelieb.com.

WEB EXTRA: See demonstrations of the Alexander Technique

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