The Alexander Technique and chronic pain

How can the Alexander Technique benefit the individual suffering from chronic pain?

What is the origin of pain and how does it work in us? Pain sends a strong and urgent signal to our brain about the location in our body of tension, injury or disease. It triggers our instincts for flight or fight and therefore our heart rate rises, our breath shortens, our muscles contract and posture compresses in order for us to meet these demands of flight or fight. When our muscles contract we feel less sensation, thus the contraction of muscles acts as the body’s anaesthetic.

These natural processes which allow us to continue to function in difficult circumstances tend to start working against us in the case of chronic pain because increased heart rate and shortness of breath can become a habit and when muscles contract there is also less blood circulation which can severely reduce our movement, and these factors can erode the health of tissues. Eventually the entire body can be caught up in the ultimate distraction of continual pain. Chronic pain drains our resources limiting severely how we relate and function which can lead to anxiety, depression and insomnia

During a series of one to one lessons with an Alexander teacher it is possible to progressively free the body and mind from the acquired habits associated with chronic pain so that the body’s natural responses once again begin to work in your favour. If the source of your pain is postural or muscular, the Alexander Technique offers you the possibility of eliminating it completely. If the source of your pain is disease, by learning with the Alexander Technique how to use your body in a more efficient manner with the minimum of effort and strain you can begin to shift your entire system from a state of alarm to one of calm, thereby creating the best conditions for you in which to heal yourself of disease.

The chronic pain sufferer with his ultimate distraction can very often be so caught up in his relation with pain that the idea of learning from a teacher how to move will probably appear totally irrelevant to his pain and the approach of a teacher and pupil relationship wholly inappropriate to his condition. In these cases the work of the Alexander Technique can begin with the pupil lying down on a table for the greater part of the lesson while the teacher works towards the maximum lengthening and widening of the structure of the physical frame thereby creating the best conditions for the individual to be less distracted by his pain and from this point the development of the desire to want to progressively participate in ones own cure can evolve. Indeed it is not possible to bring about a cure of the whole being without the help and co-operation of the individual concerned because without understanding and addressing the habit of movement associated with what ails us we will automatically return to what is familiar to us, even if this familiarity is unhelpful and compounds our problem.

Pills, potions, massages, exercises and manipulation of joints can help many people in the right place at the right time, but for the person in chronic pain they can all too often create cycles of dependency and addiction which give at best very short term relief , because the body and mind of the chronic pain sufferer is rarely in a state to assimilate the change that these things may bring about. The Alexander Technique being a pre-technique can offer a strong basis for the possibility of change for those suffering with chronic pain by creating the right conditions for change, can bring about that change by working with a teacher giving guidance with the hands, and it can give a new direction to the postural and respiratory mechanisms which underlie all our movements and our thoughts about our movements.


Alexander Technique and chronic pain

This page is also available in: French