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One of the best examples of how the Alexander Technique can help a common illness is back pain. According to The National Back Pain Society in the UK over eighty per cent of all people living in the West will suffer from disabling lower back pain at some point in their lives. In the United States one hundred million visits are made to chiropractors annually and in the UK sixty million working days are lost each year because of back trouble. Not only that, but these figures are doubling every ten years.
It is estimated that over two million people in Britain alone are off work with backache in any twelve month period, and of course this figure does not include schoolchildren, students, young mothers with children, the unemployed or people who have retired, as none of these are at work in the first place; nor does it include many more people who have backache, but still carry on working. The actual number of people who suffer with back pain could therefore well exceed twenty million, which is staggering when you realise that this is nearly a third of the British population.
Statistics indicate that back pain is on the increase in most developed countries, yet no one seems to have any clear answers or solutions to the problem. Although vast sums of money are being spent on medical treatments for the pain, which incidentally often have unpleasant side effects, there is little research into why back pain is so prevalent in our society and yet comparatively rare in many under-developed countries. Doctors, back specialists and orthopaedic surgeons openly admit that often the cause of back pain is a mystery and after surgery many people suffer with greater discomfort than before. The same can be said for other ailments, such as arthritis or headaches.
Many people carry on for years with unnecessary pain, not realising that anything can be done for them. The underlying cause of many of these problems can be found when we consider our posture and the way we use our bodies while performing even the simplest of tasks: pain is simply the body's warning system trying to tell us that something is going wrong. If we were driving a car and the oil light came on, we would not take out the bulb and carry on driving - this, of course, would be foolish. We would stop the car and endeavour to find what was wrong, and if we did not we could expect more serious problems later. Yet when it comes to back pain many people today are trying to do just that - they try to eliminate pain without investigating what is causing it in the first place. This is the main reason why back pain tends to recur again and again.
People living in developed countries generally spend many hours each day sitting in chairs, and these typically slope backwards. These two facts combined together contribute a great deal to the high incidence of back pain. Using a forward-sloping wedge-shaped cushion or a well designed chair can help improve posture and decrease back pain.
The key to learning the Alexander Technique is awareness. At first, to be aware of how we perform various tasks seems very alien, because we are used to moving automatically without any thought whatsoever. Slowly, we are taught to think briefly before performing any given action to see how it can be carried out with the minimum of tension. Most people are very surprised when they find that they are causing their neck or back muscles to tense needlessly, simply because of the way they hold and move their bodies.
By analysing even simple movements, such as walking or getting up from a chair, we can use the Alexander Technique to find new ways of moving, and thus release tension, rather than unnecessarily creating it. People who have undergone a course of lessons also experience less tiredness and have more energy to do the things they enjoy, instead of sitting around each evening feeling exhausted. In this way the quality of their lives is greatly enhanced and back pain can easily become a thing of the past.