Back pain can be more than just a nuisance to your daily activities. For some, back pain stop them from leading the life they want to lead—exercising, playing with kids or grandkids, or even just moving. And unfortunately, back pain is all too common: Up to 80 percent of people experience it at some point during their lives.
Different levels of back pain call for different remedies, but there’s something everyone can do to help their body move and get strong: spine-stabilizing exercises. These mostly focus on giving stability and power to your core, which in turn can improve the function of your spine as well as reduce pain overall.
The good thing about these core-boosting exercises is that they’re easy to do. You don’t need private instruction or a membership in a fancy gym. You need your body and a soft surface—that’s it. This graphic walks through simple movements to make.
The Alexander technique teaches improved posture and movement, which is believed to help reduce and prevent problems caused by unhelpful habits.
During a number of lessons you’re taught to be more aware of your body, how to improve poor posture and move more efficiently.
Teachers of the Alexander technique believe this helps get rid of tension in your body and relieves problems such as back pain, neck ache, sore shoulders and other musculoskeletal problems.
Evidence suggests the technique has the potential to improve certain health conditions, but there are some claims made about the technique that haven’t been scientifically tested (see Does it work? below).
The main principles of the Alexander technique are:
“how you move, sit and stand affects how well you function”
“the relationship of the head, neck and spine is fundamental to your ability to function optimally”
“becoming more mindful of the way you go about your daily activities is necessary to make changes and gain benefit”
“the mind and body work together intimately as one, each constantly influencing the other”
Teachers of the technique say that conditions such as backache and other sorts of long-term pain are often the result of misusing your body over a long period of time, such as moving inefficiently and standing or sitting with your weight unevenly distributed.
The aim of the Alexander technique is to help you “unlearn” these bad habits and achieve a balanced, more naturally aligned body.
Learning the Alexander technique
The Alexander technique is taught by a qualified teacher (see Finding a teacher below for information about training) in one-to-one lessons.
Lessons often take place in a studio, clinic or the teacher’s house and usually last 30-45 minutes. You’ll be asked to wear loose-fitting, comfortable clothing so you’re able to move easily.
The teacher will observe your movements and show you how to move, sit, lie down and stand with better balance and less strain. They’ll use their hands to gently guide you in your movements, help you maintain a better relationship between your head, neck and spine, and to release muscle tension.
You’ll need to attend a number of lessons to learn the basic concepts of the Alexander technique. Often, around 20 or more weekly lessons are recommended.
Teachers of the technique say you may see an improvement in aches and pains fairly soon after starting the lessons, but that you need to be committed to putting what you learn into practice and it may take a considerable amount of time to see the full benefits.
The overall aim is to help you gain an understanding of the main principles involved so you can apply them to everyday life, allowing you to benefit from the technique without the need for frequent ongoing lessons.
Does it work?
Proponents of the Alexander technique often claim it can help people with a wide range of health conditions. Some of these claims are supported by scientific evidence, but some have not yet been properly tested.
There’s evidence suggesting the Alexander technique can help people with:
long-term back pain – lessons in the technique may lead to reduced back pain-associated disability and reduce how often you feel pain for up to a year or more
long-term neck pain – lessons in the technique may lead to reduced neck pain and associated disability for up to a year or more
Parkinson’s disease – lessons in the technique may help you carry out everyday tasks more easily and improve how you feel about your condition
If you have one of these conditions and are considering trying the Alexander technique, it’s a good idea to speak to your GP or specialist first to check if it might be suitable for you.
Some research has also suggested the Alexander technique may improve general long-term pain, stammering and balance skills in elderly people to help them avoid falls. But the evidence in these areas is limited and more studies are needed.
Alexander technique lessons are mostly available privately. Each lesson usually costs around £35-50.
However, in recent years some NHS trusts have started to offer Alexander technique lessons as part of their outpatient pain clinics. Ask your GP whether it’s available through the NHS in your local area.
Finding a teacher
If you’re thinking about trying the Alexander technique, it’s important to choose a teacher who’s experienced and qualified.
There aren’t currently any laws or regulations stating what training someone must have to teach the Alexander technique. Professional organisations offer courses (often for three years) and membership upon successful completion of the course.
Teachers must meet certain requirements to register with these organisations and agree to comply with their code of ethics.
In the UK, the main organisations for teachers of the Alexander technique are the:
Of these, only the CHNC has been accredited by the Professional Standards Authority.
Risks and limitations
For most people, Alexander technique lessons are safe and pose no health risks. No manipulation of your body is involved, just gentle touch.
However, the technique may not be suitable for certain people, such as those with:
a specific spinal injury
severe pain from a herniated (ruptured) disc
severe ss (narrowing of the spine)
a fracture of the vertebrae (the bones in the spine)
In such cases, specialist medical treatment will be needed.
It’s important to remember that most teachers of the Alexander technique aren’t medical professionals. They do not diagnose, offer advice on or treat conditions that should be managed by a suitably qualified mainstream healthcare professional.
One of the severe consequences of leading a sedentary lifestyle is back pain. On the contrary, even highly active people also suffer from back pain. Reports from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, for the year 2011–12, National Health Survey have shown that approximately 13.6% of the Australian population, which sums up to 3 million Australians, suffer from back ache. Furthermore, almost 70% to 90% of the people would have experienced back pain at one point or the other in their lives.
Whether you are suffering from back aches, recurring pains or even stiffness, practicing some back-pain exercises is one of the most efficient way to get some relief for your back and boost your overall wellbeing. Here are the top 18 back-ache relief exercises, which can be tried in just 18 minutes!
Lie on your back with your hand stretched outwards and the palm facing down. Slowly bend your leg to one side of your body when you are facing the opposite direction. Place your knee such that, the opposite hand is on top of the bent knee. Stay for 20 seconds and then repeat the same with the other leg.
Knee to Chest Stretch
Lie on the back with your legs bent at 90 degrees. Now pull one leg back and hold it close to your chest to make a 60 degree angle, using both your hands. Hold your leg in this position for 20 seconds and then repeat the same with the other leg.
Hamstring Floor Stretch
Lie on your back with the legs bent at 90 degrees, one leg at a time. Slowly straighten and grab the back of your leg with your hands. Pull your leg towards your body and hold it for 30 seconds. Pull your leg only till your body allows, not until it pains. However, a slight discomfort is normal.
The Hip Flexors Stretch
Assume kneeling position and raise the right leg, placing your foot on the floor. Now shift your weight to your right leg and move forward. Lean front in this angled-forward position until you feel a mild stretch. Stay for 30 seconds and later repeat this with the other leg.
Lie down and lift your right leg to rotate it externally, away from the midline, placing your right ankle on your left knee. Now slowly bring the left knee near your chest. Next, clasp your hands around the left hamstring muscles. Now pull your right ankle and left knee using your hand, until you feel stretched. Stay for 30 seconds. Repeat with the other leg.
Complete Back Stretch
Start by standing one-arm’s length away from a sturdy object, such as table. Lean forward, slightly bending the knees and hold the edge of the object with both hands fully extended and head in line with the shoulders. Stay for 10 seconds.
Quadriceps Lying Down Stretch
Lie down on your side keeping the hips, knees and shoulders in a straight line. Bring one of the heels towards buttocks by holding your ankle, until you feel stretched in your front thigh. Stay for 30 seconds. Relax and then repeat by turning over to the other side.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
Stand in front of a sturdy object and place one foot on top of that object. Keep the trunk and knee straight, while leaning forward and then bend near the hips. Stay for 20 seconds before getting back to the starting position.
Lie on the back and keep the knees bent. Keep your arms at the sides with palms flat. Take a deep breath and exhale as you flatten the back, until neck, back of the head and spine get pressed against the floor. Lift the pelvic area as you exhale. Repeat this 30 times.
Cat and Camel
Kneel down with your hands flat on the floor. Take deep breath and inhale as you lift the lower rib. Relax your neck by rounding your back. Maintaining firm abdomen, exhale and then lower the chest. Repeat this a few times by look up slightly.
Quadrupled Arm/leg Raise
Kneel down with your hands flat on the floor and raise one arm, without rising or twisting your shoulders. Then slowly straighten and raise your leg to opposite side. Keep your hips and neck motionless. Repeat it with the opposite leg and the other arm.
Lie down facing the floor. If this gets uncomfortable, then use a pillow under your stomach. Stay for 1 minute and then prop up on your elbows. Stay for 1 second and then lower the back. Repeat this 10 times.
Lie down with knees bent and feet flat. Tighten stomach muscles and tuck the chin to the chest. Now curl the upper body forward by placing hands on the chest. Stay for 3 seconds. Breathe while doing this. Repeat 10 times in a set.
Lie down and bend the knees. Keep the hands straight and place right ankle on top of the left knee. Stay until you feel a slight discomfort, but not pain. Stretch each leg for 20 seconds three times.
Lie on the side and prop the upper body up using your elbow. Keep the legs straight and begin by lifting the hips away from the floor. Stay for 6 seconds and rest for 30 seconds. Repeat this 3 to 5 times.
Lie down with knees bent. Extend the arms while keeping the palms flat. Lift your hips towards the ceiling while keeping your palms straight on the floor. Draw your tailbone and stay in this position with buttocks away from the floor. Never flex your buttocks or squeeze the gluteal muscles. Stay for 1 minute.
Prone Spine Stretches
Lie down on your stomach. Place the palms below shoulders with the top of your feet flat on the ground. Engage the abdominal muscles, while slowly lifting the head up. Continue till the upper body and chest are away from the floor with arms straightened. Stay for 15 seconds and repeat this 5 times.
This completes stretching, so take a moment to relax. Use a pillow under the legs and lie flat on a blanket with hands out and breathe. This completes your stretch exercise.