Chronic pain (i.e. longstanding or persistent pain) is a complicated condition. So it’s not straightforward to treat…
Most therapies do help pain to some extent in some people, but their effect tends to be short term. This is where Alexander Technique is different because it is educational. It isn’t something passive that is done to you, you play an active role. And the more you practise for yourself the more you can change the way you move, react, relax, breathe… all aspects of your mind and body that affect your pain, and how you feel about your pain. This may take some time to learn, depending on your condition and circumstances, but the idea is that you won’t need to rely on me long term, you will have the skills to take care of yourself.
Pain does not have to mean distress.
If you are living with persistent pain you will no doubt want someone to fix you. I certainly did! Persistent pain is complex and multifactorial, so no-one can tell you truthfully they can take it away for you without you making any changes. Alexander Technique is effective in helping persistent pain, for example lower back pain, but more importantly it is a powerful self- management tool because it looks at the whole of you- mind and body. I can help you make the changes you need, but ultimately you are in charge!
Latest pain science gives a positive message
Persistent pain is complex and cannot be switched off overnight, but there are lots of things we can do to help ourselves get better. Most people, if given the right support should be able to significantly improve their pain, and almost more importantly, their overall well-being and happiness despite having some pain. If you have just been told to “live with it”, that isn’t good enough. You can get better.
Alexander Technique can compliment other approaches such as physiotherapy.
I was a vet for 10 years, a job I loved. Unfortunately I developed severe chronic back pain that meant I had to give up work. I had an old injury (I broke my back during my vet training), but I don’t think my pain was inevitable – I had worked on farms after my injury throwing around bales of straw and picking up sheep with no problems!
However, work and other life stressors eventually added up to severe pain that was uncontrolled on daily opioid painkillers. I had been treated and discharged from 3 pain clinics, done months of physiotherapy and practised pilates daily (I had amazing stomach muscles then!). I tried a range of alternative therapies such as acupuncture, hypnotherapy and chiropracty. I also had practised yoga and kept active, walking at least an hour every day on top of an active job.
Unfortunately, none of these treatments or exercises were helpful for me. I had “perfect” posture and movement when assessed by physiotherapists i.e. I stood and sat up straight and always bent my hips and knees to lift something. But I was extremely tense. I was switching on muscles excessively with every movement, partly because I had been taught this would “protect” my back, and partly because I was guarding myself – holding onto myself tightly in a subconscious effort to protect myself from further pain. I had had a few inputs from professionals with more holistic ideas – I was told to learn to relax without just sleeping, but not how to do it. I also apparently needed to learn to relax through breathing, but, again, I was not shown exactly how to do it.
I did Alexander Technique lessons privately for some time before starting the 3 years training to become a teacher. The lessons didn’t make a big difference to my pain for quite a while, but from lesson one they made a big difference to how I felt. The very first lesson gave me some real relaxation and calmness that I hadn’t had for a long time, and the “homework” of lying down and practising the thinking skills gave me a way of controlling the pain from the first practice. Feeling that that you have no control over your pain, especially having no way of dealing with flare-ups adds to the distress of pain considerably. Having useful ways to react and calm the pain gave me sense of being in charge again, and helped flare-ups to pass quicker.
With Alexander Technique for the first time it wasn’t about working harder ,“no pain, no gain”, it was about the opposite – how could I do less? Any instructions came with all the detail of how to do them. And in a way that would work for me. I gradually learnt other skills, such as how to switch off all the excessive tension I was holding and react to situations more calmly. With time my breathing changed naturally as my lower ribs became less fixed and moved more with each breath. My pain, instead of being all over my back and in my shoulders and neck, causing awful headaches, became more localised to where I had the old injury. My whole back began to work in an integrated way, and I lost the defensive guarding I had obviously had for a long time. With that the pain gradually reduced to the point where it is only a minor factor in the background of my life. I’m not completely pain free all the time (who is?), but I don’t need drugs and I can get on and enjoy my life.
I hope that others have better treatment early on, so as not to need the level of intervention and time to recover that I needed. If dealt with in holistic way early on there is no need for persistent pain to develop in the way I experienced. And by holistic I mean treating the person rather than just a condition.
For many people their pain can be practically eliminated, but for those with more complex needs they need someone to be supportive for the long term. Someone who won’t expect you to respond in a particular way and discharge you from their care if you don’t. Because Alexander Technique works with the whole of you, it doesn’t have a fixed end in mind eg stronger core muscles or getting you to stand up straight. It is about putting you in the driving seat of your life, not your pain. And as you can get on and enjoy your life more, your pain will be a less and less significant part of your life, and eventually might go altogether.
After my surgery for a fractured vertebra, the 6 day intensive Alexander Technique course with Mireille was a god send. Not only did it give comfort and relief at the time but since then I have been able to draw on the experience to manage my discomfort. I am sure that even after full recovery the techniques will allow me to use my body well! While Mireille’s regular blogs and Facebook posts are useful to the general public, after having some sessions they become pertinent reminders of techniques learned. I can’t wait until Mireille can fit me in for another course.