Children’s scooters have just been included in the UK Consumer Prices Index, CPI, as they are so popular they are having a financial impact in the UK. There must be a lot of people
This photo show that many children love them – here in Stoke Newington, scooters are a favourite mode of transport for going to school and numbers of scooters get parked in playgrounds. They are brilliant for helping to keep children active and fit in a fun way and it is lovely to see kids zooming along the road, poised and lively, with their heads leading them into movement.
Pushing With One Dominant Leg?
But how could scooters possibly make children lopsided? Well, I wonder how many parents and teachers notice if children always use the same foot to propel themselves forwards? I imagine quite a number of people have never given it a thought.
But do please think about it – what impact might that have? Even tiny children use scooters and may do so for several years. If one leg is always pushing, then one set of leg muscles in that leg is being developed, whilst the other leg is always supporting, so a different set of muscles will be developed in that leg – so the muscles could grow visibly bigger in the stronger leg.
What would the implications be for the body’s general balance and poise, if legs develop differently from each other in this way? Unhelpful at the least and possibly harmful, if the imbalance became exaggerated through frequent over-use
of one leg in preference to the other. This problem can affect adult scooter users too but would have a greater impact on children’s bodies whilst growing and developing and could be one way that children’s bodies could gradually become a bit lopsided. If it’s just habits causing the distortion, that can be avoided!
Twisting and Torsion
Another problem that could arise, is a habitual twist in the torso (and probably the knees) if the child scoots in an uneven way. Muscular torsion in the neck and back is also a potential problem with using skateboards, if the same foot leads all the time. Muscles in the neck and torso could work unevenly, the back and pelvis could become lopsided, which could eventually cause pain and discomfort. Given how many children and adults are using scooters and skateboards these days, we could end up with a large number of people seeking help for problems such as neck and back pain
at a later date.
This skateboarder has pretty good body use, leading with the head and using his hip joints freely. However, if he always leads with the same foot and he has to look in the same direction all the time, torsion problems in his neck
and back could develop.
Mindfulness and Body Use
However, with awareness and by establishing habits of good body-use
right from the start, including alternating their feet regularly, these problems could be avoided, so children and adults can have fun without interfering with their natural poise and balance.
If problems have started developing, Alexander lessons
can help people to let go of their habits of imbalance and twisting, so that their head neck back relationship can be regained and a more evenly balanced way of using equipment such as scooters and skateboards can be learned.
Do you spend hours at a time using your smart phone and tablet?
Do you also experience tension headaches and pain such as Text Neck? Maybe back pain
? If so you need to become aware of just how you are using your body whilst using these technological gizmos. Some people become addicted to using them so it would be good to acknowledge just how much time you spend on them, all the time developing habits that will impact on your body and possibly damage your health in the process.
‘Skellyphone’ is my name for this imaginative mural
I love this wall painting in Finsbury Park! It seems to suggest that the person doesn’t even know they are alive, they are so engrossed by the smart phone. The whole energy of the image is down, down, down – in much the way that real phone users sit – even the mouth is down. So that heavy head is off balance and compressing the cervical vertebrae
and other parts of the spine
so would be likely, in a real person, to result in neck and postural problems. Many, many people are seeking help for painful necks and shoulders that have developed because of the over-use
of smart phones and other gizmos..
Do you worry about kids ruining their posture through over-use of phones?
If you read my previous posts about Text Neck
and how it has been found in children as young as 7 years old
, you can see just how heavy our heads are and how neck and tension problems can arise, particularly when the sort of posture Skellyphone is displaying becomes habitual. Don’t let texting become a pain in the neck – we can learn
how to do it differently!
We CAN have a Smart Posture to go with our Smart Phone!
The more aware we can be of our tendency to sink and contract down into ourselves when we use phones and other technology, the more likely we will be to be able to change our habits so that we look after our bodies. We can learn how to use them in ways that help us to maintain (or regain) our poise
, avoiding tension and pain from developing. Phones are not heavy, yet we often let ourselves collapse down as we hold them as if they weigh a tonne!
Studying can damage you – if you mis-use yourself
Offices and performances have deadlines and exams get students working long hours. Some people will be damaging their health in the process. This has been understood for a long time. As Mary Wollstonecraft said in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman 1792, ‘People of genius have, very frequently, impaired their constitutions by study or careless inattention to their health’
People still pressure themselves into over-working intensely (in-tense-ly – get it? ) at the expense of their health, whether it is reaching deadlines for the boss, feeling stressed, aiming for high scores in exams, over-practising on a musical instrument, or pushing themselves way beyond their natural limits in dance or sports. The end gaining ‘no pain no gain’ attitude has, unfortunately, led to many injuries over the years, which so often stop the person working or performing altogether. We don’t need to do that. How much better when we pace ourselves and are mindful of how we are using our bodies, particularly under stress.
Be mindful of your habits and how much tension you put into your mouse hand
Are you aware of how much tension you put into your mouse hand and do you keep working without a rest, despite RSI pain developing and making life miserable? This does not serve you – stop such habits now, before they stop you working!
Many people set their equipment up well but do not notice how
they actually use them. Do you tense yourself as you anticipate using
the keyboard and ‘getting down to work
‘? This downward energy will restrict your hands and arm use
and such compression often results in neck and back pain
Become aware not just of what you are doing but how
you are doing it. Be mindful of your habits
and allow your hands to move towards the keyboard and mouse softly and freely
, without any reaction of tensing up. Keep reminding yourself not to tighten as you work and take frequent little breaks to free up your hands, arms and back again. This will also clear your mind and help you work better. This is easier to do with the help of an AT teacher.
Don’t mindlessly ‘Keep going until it’s finished’, without taking breaks
It is a common story that new AT pupils tell me as they describe why they have come for Alexander lessons ~ ‘I felt I had to keep going because ‘it’ was so important and then I got headaches / RSI / hurt my back / got ill / strained a muscle’… Many people raise their blood pressure levels because of stress and overwork and that driven ‘nose to the grindstone‘ attitude towards work, usually distorts our posture and impacts on our general health.
If we thrust our neck out to look at books, phones and screens, we collapse the chest and our (heavy) head gets pulled forwards and down. The neck is constantly held out in front of the torso, so that it gets more and more tense as it tries to hold up the weight of the head without proper support from the bony structure of the skeleton and back. The neck and head become out of alignment – typical of ‘Text Neck’! This distorts us and puts a lot of pressure on the neck vertebrae and the upper back so that Kyphosis develops, frequently resulting in damage and pain. It also pushes extra weight down into the arms and hands, making hand-use more difficult and restricted – very unhelpful if you want to make music, for instance.
‘The Scholar’ by Tapfuma Gusta
This fixed, pulled down posture has been beautifully portrayed in a sculpture, ‘The Scholar’ shown below, which was exhibited in Kirstenbosch Botanic Gardens, Cape Town. How familiar is that body-shape in those that study hard! You can see how the heavy weight of this man’s head has been dragging his body down; endless study giving him a wealth of knowledge perhaps, but at the expense of his physical well-being.
All Work and No Play Makes Jack a Dull Boy
Have you noticed how many words in English that are associated with work are descriptive of tension and a downward energy? We reflect that in our minds and bodies if we are not careful – but luckily we can learn to change this!
It helps us in many ways when we let ourselves lighten-up and allow our minds and bodies to change gear, to rest and play as well as work. As one pupil put it:
“When I use the semi-supine rest procedure in the office at lunchtime, it means I have a clearer head when I re-start work and I get less back pain”
‘I’m Going to the Dentist’
For many people, even the thought of going to the dentist tends to bring about a reaction of tensing up in defensive anticipation and their anxiety can mount still further when they actually see the dentist and his tools. However, we can learn the Alexander Technique and use it to help reduce our tension levels and anxiety whilst the dentist is working on our teeth, so we are much more comfortable throughout dental procedures. Also, if we have a relaxed jaw and are calm, this will make things easier for the dentist!
This image expresses some of the feelings associated with sitting in the dentist’s chair. It also shows the dentist looking rather unhappy about his own experience, which, sadly, is often the case. Research has shown that many dentists suffer from back pain, heart problems and depression and, apparently, are twice as likely to commit suicide as the rest of the population. It would be great if more dentists learned the Alexander Technique so that they had a tool they could help themselves with whilst they work, could look after their backs as they bend over their often agitated patients and could help themselves let go of tension at the end of what can be a long and stressful day’s work.
Can we avoid reacting with tension?
I saw my dentist recently and was very aware of how I constantly needed to remind myself not to react with tension to every drilling noise made! On a practical note, I first had to ask the dentist to adjust the height of the neck rest to suit my body as I lay back in the chair. Then it was up to me to keep calmly maintaining the length in my spine and to avoid creating tension in my jaw, neck and back muscles so that I could make the procedure more comfortable for myself.
This image illustrates just how easy it can be to compress your neck in order to let the dentist look into your mouth and pulling your head back like this puts so much extra pressure on your cervical vertebrae and discs
. It is really worth being mindful of how you lift your chin and open your mouth, so that you do this freely
, with as much length along the curves in your spine as you can, thus reducing compression and distortion. It will also be easier for you to have a relaxed jaw so that it opens wider, if your neck is relaxed.
Another great thing about using the Alexander Technique whilst at the dentist’s, is that it gives you something positive to think about, rather than just focussing on all the sounds and sensations – and you can feel less powerless as the dentist drills and polishes your teeth.
How useful the Alexander Technique can be!
TV’s Trust Me I’m a Doctor – ‘How to get stronger in just a few weeks without going to the gym!’
In the first programme of a new TV series, Dr Michael Mosley demonstrated novel ways to increase muscle strength in a few weeks, purely through performing everyday tasks such as washing up and hoovering differently – and he could almost have been showing us how to use Alexander Technique procedures during daily activities in order to become stronger and healthier! I really like this approach to exercise and it is one that I have worked on with some of my pupils. This is in addition to their standard Alexander lessons and we do not use a ‘set of exercises’. One big thing missing in the TV programme, as is so often the case, is that there was little mention as to how to perform these tasks, apart from a warning to ‘look after your back’. In the info available on the programme’s website, there are a few more instructions available but they could be refined and extended, to great advantage.
Deep Monkey for Picking Things Up and Cleaning Teeth
A partial squatting movement, or monkey position, was suggested by Mosley to use for both picking up shopping bags and for cleaning the teeth – both of which are standard applications of AT procedures. One difference was that Mosley used some deep squats repeatedly, in order to strengthen the leg and buttocks muscles. Unfortunately he twisted round towards the camera as he cleaned his teeth, which would not have helped his back – of course he wouldn’t usually have cameras in his bathroom, so perhaps he wouldn’t twist as he bent forwards. This twisting is the type of problem to look out for and the sort of thing that so easily creeps in when we perform tasks repeatedly, particularly if we are endgaining and just doing ‘x’ amount of repeats in order to ‘get stronger’. However, they are difficult to notice on our own ans our habits are so familiar to us. If an AT teacher can help us be mindful of how we perform such movements, this is a simple exercise to add in our our daily routine in order to maintain leg strength whilst incorporating the AT. How wonderful our language is! I’ve just realised that ‘incorporate‘ means to ‘take in’ and ‘embody‘ so yes, we want the AT to be embodied within us, so that we use it for everything we do.
Lunges Whilst Hoovering
I also teach people to use a lunge whilst doing tasks such as sweeping and hoovering but Mosley uses a much deeper lunge than usual, in order to increase leg strength. An important aspect of this movement to be aware of, is to keep the hips knees and ankles in line with each other, so that you avoid twisting them The programme website repeatedly states ‘do not let your knees go out in front of your toes’ and if you are unused to exercise this can be a good maxim to follow but make sure you do not lock in your hip and ankle joints plus over-use your thigh muscles in order to block the forward movement of your knees. However, if you are aware of your body-use, allowing your knees to ease out over your toes is no problem and this can help you to move more freely and to maintain a central balance over your feet.
Cleaning, Using Calf Raises
Rising up onto our toes to ‘demi-pointe‘ as ballet dancers call it, is another movement sometimes used in AT lessons, in order to explore our balance and the use of our feet and ankles. Many people have rather rigid ankles and rising up onto he toes can help free them up. As the TV programme suggests, this movement can be fed into daily activities when you want to reach up high or when drawing curtains for instance – Mosley demonstrated this whilst at a kitchen sink. It is easy to habitually lead with the hips when rising to the toes, which causes the back to arch, creating an imbalance throughout the whole body. This habit can be avoided which allows us to direct the movement so that the head leads and the whole body follows, rising up onto the toes whilst continuing to be in alignment. Balance will improve too.
Interestingly, a pupil brought an air-filled cushion to her AT lesson and told me that she has been using it like a wobble board and has been standing on it whilst washing up. That adds some fun and interest to a daily chore! What she noticed was that she has a habit of thrusting her pelvis forwards (like Mosley) in order to rest on the sink, which actually threw her off balance. When she thought through how she was moving, she allowed her head to lead her into the standing movement and was then able to stand on the wobble board using a small monkey position over the sink. This protected her back and allowed her to balance more easily.
Bicep Curls, Tricep Extensions, Deadlift and Oblique Twists
I haven’t used these in AT lessons unless someone has specifically
asked to explore such movements and sometimes this can be a useful thing to do, in order to learn how to avoid habits which could contribute to strains and other problems. I do often work with people to find a way for them to rotate their bodies with greater freedom and flexibility – this is a useful movement to make occasionally if you are desk-bound for several hours – and I have found it helps free me up as I am sitting writing this. Take extra care if you want to include weights whilst rotating, as Mosley suggests! Strenuous twists holding weights could be a quick route through to hurting your back…
This is another movement which has been explored by my students quite frequently in
Alexander lessons and it can be performed quite easily. The most important thing to think about from an Alexander Technique perspective, is to keep noticing your body-use and not get caught up in endgaining in order to just do lots of press-ups. As soon as our attention wavers from thinking about the means whereby we are performing such a movement all sorts of mis-use can start coming into play – the neck can become contracted, the lower back can start arching, the jaw can tighten and a load of unhelpful tension can build up – which is not strength, just tension.
I love working with people in order to explore how to use the Alexander Technique to underpin and enhance their movements. Yes the AT can help us be calm and quietly balanced as we sit, stand and lie down and it can also help us free up so we are more dynamic, moveable and even stronger without having to pump iron!
It’s the Time for Coughs and Sneezes!
An osteopath told me that some patients come to her because they have hurt their backs when sneezing and coughing. So, as winter arrives, yet more people may find their way to her door, unless they find a way of avoiding this problem to begin with. One way to help ourselves is through looking after our backs by having Alexander Technique lessons and being more mindful of how we use our bodies during everyday activities – even when coughing and sneezing!
One of the main reasons that we can hurt our backs when coughing, is that if we habitually hold ourselves in a fixed manner with contracted, tense back muscles, this tightness will be increased by the strong spasms of coughing and sneezing, which will obviously be more exaggerated if you have a long bout of coughing. The lower back in the lumbar region can be particularly vulnerable and the jolting can jar the spine or strain the muscles, sometimes even damaging an intervertebral disc, causing great pain. There can also be a problem for people with hypermobility, as they can sometimes dislocate their joints if their body gets jolted strongly.
Protect Your Back
If we anticipate these sorts of problem, we can cough and sneeze with some awareness and protect our backs. If we are standing we can unlock our hips, knees and ankles so that they can bend a little and, ideally, allow the back to continue lengthening even whilst we cough. Take care to align your hips, knees and ankles so that your knees move forwards and outwards over your toes without twisting.
If you have had some AT lessons, you can remind yourself to use a small (and moveable) monkey position when coughing. If we are sitting, we can free the hip joints and let our bodies angle slightly forwards from the hips, so that the torso is freer to move around as it needs to.
This allows our muscles to respond more with more elasticity but with direction
so that there is a centredness within the coughing and this allows our ribs to expand and contract more easily with the spasms. In this way, the jolts can be softened and ripple through us, rather than straining us. As I have personally found, this way of sneezing and coughing can also be helpful for people after having abdominal surgery, possibly with the addition of holding the abdomen during the sneeze, to give the muscles more support.
Let the Tension Go Again
Importantly, let the tension go again after coughing and allow your chest to uncurl and open up again. If you forget to do this, the tension and inevitable pulling down that takes place when coughing will just go on building up. If you can lie down in semi-supine afterwards that can help enormously but sometimes it is hard to lie down horizontally if you have a bad cough. In which case, make sure your back (and head?) has good support and spend a few minutes encouraging your chest and back to free up again, just as you would if you were practising the lying down procedure.
The more able you are to have a free neck and back, the more resilient your muscles will be and the more efficient the coughs can be too. Even if you have not had Alexander Lessons, you can help protect your back as you allow your legs, with their moveable hips, knees and ankles, to act as shock absorbers when you cough and work your way back to health.
Remember: Bend your knees when you cough and sneeze!
Text Neck is Painful – Avoid it!
It was good to see some research
published last year by Dr Kenneth Hansraj, in which he demonstrated how damaging it can be for us to spend time dropping the head forwards in order to use a smart phone – which many people do for several hours a day. This habit can result in people developing a condition called ‘Text neck’ and this is something that Alexander Teachers and other practitioners are seeing in increasing numbers, as people want help with reducing pain and discomfort.
The problem of text neck comes about because of the weight of our heads and the manner in which we use our bodies to support it or, most likely, do not support it efficiently.
I took this photo of some young men in London. They were all on their phones. All hunching over them in a variety of different ways. If you think about just how heavy those heads are, (see below) you can begin to sense how they drag on the neck muscles and compress the spine.
Symptoms of Text Neck:
- Neck Pain,
- Upper Back Pain
- Shoulder Pain
- Increased Curvature of the Spine
Add to this an increase in the number of people developing RSI
and you can see that using smart phones can be a risky business, unless you are careful.
Our heads are surprisingly heavy.
An adult’s head weighs between 10 – 12 lbs, or 4.5 – 5.0 kg. Human heads are heavy!. When I give someone their first Alexander lesson, I often ask them to hold a couple of weights that, together, weigh 8.8 lbs / 4 kgs and I explain that the weights almost certainly weigh less than their heads. Most people are really shocked!
When we have a neutral, upright poise, so that the head balances freely on the top vertebra, we do not notice the weight of the head much. However, when the head and neck are dropped forwards, as in the diagram below, we do begin to notice, and the impact of that big weight increases the more pulled down we are. When someone’s head is dropped forwards to an angle of 60 degrees, the weight seen by the spine is massively increased to 60 lbs. No wonder we begin to get neck, back and shoulder ache! If this misuse and position become a habit, then we begin to damage the cervical spine with an
increased curvature, which can get fixed into a very hunched postural position.
Of course this sort of habit can also develop from performing other activities whilst dropping the head forwards and down – for instance when reading books, sewing, performing craft-work or computing – I take care to think about my body use when writing this, so that I avoid contracting down over the keyboard.
How Much Time do You Spend on Your Phone? How do You Use it?
If you take note of your habits, you may be surprised by the amount of time you hunch down over your cell phone – the average is between 2 – 4 hours per day. Are you reading this Blog on your phone right now? How much tension are you using whilst phoning and texting?
Perhaps mobile phones are more of a problem than other activities, because they get taken around with people all the time and demand our attention incessantly – it is hard to escape them! Often they are work phones, so people can be stressed by being contacted by work when they want to relax, or by having work problems follow them around all day. When we are stressed, we tend to be more tense and contracted and this just exacerbates any problems we may have with the way we use ourselves whilst on the phone. This sort of thing also contributes to RSI.
So How Do You Avoid Painful Text Neck Developing?
You can probably begin to see that it is worth paying attention to your phone use, because once you are aware of your habits, you can choose to do things differently and begin to avoid building up problems for yourself.
The young man in this photo below demonstrates how we can use the Alexander Technique to be mindful of our body use and be seated in an easy but poised manner. Note how he brings the phone up towards his eyes so that he can read the screen without disturbing the balance of the head on his neck, which is able to remain lengthening in alignment with the rest of his spine. He could also text or play games in this position and could maintain this sort of body use if he were standing.
Sometimes I will work with people whilst they demonstrate how they use their mobile phone, as part of their AT lesson. This can be really helpful, as people often begin to notice habits they were totally unaware of and they are then able to be more mindful about their body use when they are out and about, texting, phoning and playing games.
As one pupil reported after starting AT lessons:
“I’m more relaxed and don’t feel so dizzy as before and I have less neck pain”
Discover how to have fun on your phone, without feeling exhausted and achy afterwards!
Caring for the Carers with the Alexander Technique
This is Carers Week in the UK and it is great to draw people’s attention to the fact that carers very often get little support for what is often a lonely, stressful, challenging and exhausting activity. The Carers Week Website cites some research that shows that, as a result of their caring responsibilities, 84% of carers felt more stressed, 78% more anxious and 55% experienced depression (State of Caring 2015). It can be tough being a carer!
Some years ago I ran ‘Stress and Relaxation‘ a
nd ‘Caring for the Carers
‘ courses in Adult Education Colleges and I was made very aware of just how difficult a life it can be for carers and how isolated they can feel. Unfortunately, carers often spend so much time caring for others that they forget to look after themselves – or even feel that they have no right to look after themselves or have time off – and this can result in their getting exhausted, unable to cope, angry, resentful, anxious, depressed or ill. Back problems are also a frequent outcome from lifting inappropriately, or from experiencing high levels of stress and tension. None of which is good for the carer, or good for the person being cared for.
There are also many people who work in caring professions and locally, there are lots of charity workers who also tend to put other people and their needs first.
“It’s Selfish to Put Myself First” – NOT NECESSARILY!
Have you ever travelled by plane and listened to the Pre-flight Safety Instructions? If so, you will have heard that it is important to put your own oxygen mask on first, before putting one on anyone else who needs assistance. People accept that idea on a plane but are often less happy to think that way at home, even though the same dynamics are true in the rest of life – you will help others far better when you look after yourself and avoid putting yourself at risk or making yourself ill from overwork.
Sometimes that means putting yourself first, for a change.
So how can the Alexander Technique help?
The AT is a wonderful tool that you can use throughout your life. Once you have learned how to use the AT during your daily activities it can, for instance, help you to cope with stressful situations, calm yourself, reduce tension and avoid injuries.
The most obvious tool you can use is the Lying Down or Constructive Rest Procedure and this can quickly help you to unwind and
rejuvenate yourself, so that you can
proceed with the next part of the day’s activities from a calmer and more
centred place in yourself. It is also great at helping you to reduce tension and back pain.
These women were learning how to use the active rest procedure in an Intro Workshop on International Women’s Day 2015.
Calm ~ Mindful ~ Unwinding ~ Centred ~ Freeing-up ~ Alert ~ Calm
STOP and Count to Ten
There are many other less obvious ways in which the AT can help us cope with difficult situations. For instance, the old technique of ‘stop and count to 10‘ is familiar to many as a useful anger management technique. More subtle but similar, is the Alexander Technique use of inhibition. With this we learn to stop briefly in order to avoid rushing into a habitual reaction to something, so that we can more thoughtfully choose how we want to respond. (This process is a lot quicker than counting to 10!)
Inhibition can be applied to avoiding all sorts of habits, from tightening our neck muscles as we rise out of a chair, saying ‘no’ to shouting at someone, to reacting with tension as we begin to use a computer – or even in reaction to just thinking of using one. When we are aware, we can notice all sorts of habitual reactions to both the outside world and also to our own internal thoughts. Once we have noticed them, we can learn to have more choice about whether or not we react habitually, or choose to respond differently.
Some situations are extremely stressful and we may have little chance to change things. However, we do have some choice as to how we react to stress and this can be invaluable in helping all of us, not just carers, to cope with the difficulties and challenges that are in our lives. We can use the AT as we travel on crowded transport, deal with a screaming child or try to unwind after a day’s work… you name the stress and using the AT will probably help you with it.
For instance, a pupil told me that using the Alexander Technique helped her to remain calm, still and relaxed, when cooped up in the machine to have an MRI scan, despite having thought she would feel claustrophobic in it.
Once we learn the Alexander Technique, we can use the AT during all our activities, every day. In so doing we can feel less helpless in the face of stress, because we know we have a tool we can use to help ourselves and to take care of ourselves in many, many different situations.
A BBC article discusses a Research Study
by scientists from Scotland, Canada and Iceland which has been published in the journal BMC Evolutionary Biology, which suggests that some peoples’ lower back pain may be caused by the shape of their vertebrae.
When the scientists studied the skeletons of ancient humans, chimpanzees and orangutans they found that some human skeletons that showed evidence of intervertebral disc herniation, had vertebrae more similar in shape to chimps than to other humans without disc damage. Chimps do not walk with an upright stance as we do and the argument put forward by the researchers is that in some people, the evolutionary development of the spine contains “pathological vertebrae” which “may be less well adapted for walking upright”.
It may well be that some people are genetically more predisposed to having lower back pain than others but there seems to be little mention in the research paper of the impact of our body-use and habits
that contribute to back problems such as a ‘slipped disc’, other than saying that they appear to be caused by strain and stress on the pathological vertebrae which cannot support the downward compression, so cannot protect the discs. If some people do have spines that are more vulnerable to the sort of compression and distortion that contribute to having a ‘slipped disc’, then it is surely even more important that they learn to use their bodies in the most aligned and effective manner, in order to protect the discs and prevent their herniation.
When we curl over, the vertebrae and discs contract down on one side and can push the soft tissue of the discs so that they bulge out, or herniate. This is not just a problem for the lumbar region of the back but we can get slipped discs in the neck and other areas of the spine as well, if they are continually compressed with habitual mis-use, or as the result of an accident. This wooden dummy does not have vertebrae but the discs of wood representing the torso can be seen to be angled, narrowed and compressed on one side, just as the vertebrae and the discs between them would be.
This research paper gives a new slant on F M Alexander’s concept of using ‘monkey position’ or ‘the position of mechanical advantage’ as he called it, which allows us to bend forwards from the hip joints, thus allowing the spine to remain lengthening – which protects the vertebrae and the intervertebral discs from compression and distortion. You can see in this photo which is illustrating ‘monkey position’ the wooden discs forming the body are more evenly spaced and opened out – if these were our vertebrae, you can see that this allows more space between them, which would not compress the discs in the same way as above.
Nature or Nurture?
This debate about the impact of our genetic inheritance and the impact of our learning throughout our lives will continue. I suggest that for most conditions, it is an interplay between both that we have to live and work with. Fortunately, most of us do have choices available to us about the way we live, use, mis-use or even abuse our bodies. As the BBC puts it ‘Back pain is a very common issue in humans’ –
but many hours lost at work through back pain could be avoided, if people learned how to move differently, so that they protect their backs as they sit, walk and work throughout the day. It can be done, as the ATEAM Research Trial
showed, which found that Alexander Technique lessons
significantly reduced chronic lower back pain and was more effective than either massage or a Doctor’s exercise prescription.