Spinal Stenosis is the narrowing of the spinal canal and can occur in the cervical, thoracic or lumbar areas of the spine – or sometimes in more than one area at the same time. This narrowing can be brought about by the degeneration of the vertebrae through conditions such as wear and tear from ageing or from general mis-use of the body which creates a continual downward compression through the spine. Other causes are tumours, osteoporosis and a number of pathological conditions.
Spinal stenosis can also be created by a prolapsed or herniated spinal disc, which can bulge and get pushed out of place, narrowing the spinal canal, thereby compressing and damaging the spinal cord and nerves. This can cause acute and sometimes chronic back pain. Gradually, if the problem is not addressed, the condition can also lead to numbness, weakness and sometimes a reduced ability to control limb movements, bowels or bladder.
As a final resort, decompressive surgery may be used to relieve the condition.
However, many people would prefer to avoid surgery if possible and it is at this point that they may start Alexander Technique lessons. Over the years, many pupils have indeed avoided having spinal surgery in this way.
Someone learning the Technique can begin to use their bodies more freely and in a more aligned manner, so that their musculature can relax and begin to lengthen out again – rather than being tightly contracted and creating the downward pressure through their bodies that causes restriction and damages the spine and other parts of themselves as they move around.
Instead of this unhelpful way of using their bodies, pupils will learn to bring about a more buoyant and expansive way of moving around, so that they relieve the pressure on their discs and vertebrae. In this way their discs are often able to regenerate, at least to a degree, which allows the vertebrae to re-align enough to reduce the pressure on the spinal cord and spinal nerves.
Our spine is a little bit like a drinking straw in that if you push down onto a straw, it will buckle and in doing so will stop any fluid going through. If you lengthen the straw out again, fluid will once again be able to go through the gap in the middle.
If the spinal stenosis has been caused by something like a tumour, then it may be possible to use the Alexander Technique in the way outlined above, in order to minimise the discomfort and to stop any avoidable pain. However, if the stenosis has mainly been brought about through the way that a person has been using their body as they sit, stand and move around, they can often reduce the pain almost entirely through using the Technique.
The fact that learning the Alexander Technique can help someone to reduce chronic back pain, which may have been brought about for a variety of reasons, has been supported by the ATEAM Research Trial, which was published by the BMJ in 2008.