Skilled Performance and Stagefright
The Alexander Technique is taught in almost all of the major schools of music, drama and dance to improve skilled performance, and the benefits are self-evident. Research has looked at the role of the AT in music training and performance. A 2014 sytematic review found good evidence from two randomised and two non-randomised controlled trials that the A.T. reduced performance stress (stagefright) in musicians.
One recent study demonstrated improved musical technique in the form of greater evenness of touch in pianists after having a lesson in the Alexander Technique.
Another study demonstrated a reduction in performance-related anxiety and improved performance quality in musicians following Alexander Technique lessons.
In a small study surgeons who undertook a course of Alexander Technique lessons reported significant improvements in posture, endurance and surgical ergonomics, and this was accompanied by a reduction in perceived discomfort when performing basic laparoscopic ('keyhole surgery') skills.
A research overview of the evidence for the effectiveness of the A.T. in musculo-skeletal conditions:
A slide summarizing the evidence to date, with references, produced for a presentation given to The Society for Back Pain Research Annual Meeting, November 2016.
Although at the moment there are only large, randomised studies for back and neck pain, a few smaller studies (such as the Knee Osteoarthritis study below,) and anecdotal evidence suggests that the A.T. may be similarly effective for several other musculo-skeletal conditions, especially for shoulder pain.
A pilot study with 21 patients, conducted by the University of Salford and funded by the BUPA Foundation, has demonstrated the effectiveness of lessons in the AT for knee osteoarthritis. There was a 56% decrease in pain and an overall 54% decrease in a comprehensive measure that included pain, disability and the psychological consequences of knee osteoarthritis after 20 lessons. This improvement was maintained at a 15 month follow-up.
Interestingly, changes in the use of certain muscles in the legs in the direction of that seen in people without knee osteoarthritis correlated closely with improvements in pain scores, demonstrating a possible mechanism for the effectiveness of the AT in these patients.
Applications are currently being made for funding for a large randomised controlled trial.
A subjective sense of greater ease of breathing has often been reported by pupils taking lessons in the AT. This has been tested in a study published in Chest, that showed a significantly enhanced respiratory function in adults following a course of 20 weekly lessons.
"The quality of our "Use of ourselves" has a profound effect on how we are, 24 hours a day. Many examples of under-performance, as well as posture-related or tension-related pain, and injuries, are unwittingly aggravated, or even caused, through habitually poor use. Conversely, learning improved use through the Alexander Technique can lead to surprising improvements; even people suffering with the most intractable conditions often report reduced pain, increased stamina and greater strength. The Alexander Technique does not treat pain and disease, it teaches greater skill in movement and reaction, which in turn enables our natural vitality to assert itself."
Professor Raymond Dart,
palaeoanthropologist and discoverer of the "missing link".
A number of studies, including a randomised, controlled trial here, have found that lessons in the AT lead to sustained benefit for people with Parkinson's disease including significantly reduced disability and depression. The AT was added to the NICE guidelines for the management and care of Parkinson's in 2017.
Balance and fear of falling in older people
Several small studies in older people have shown AT instruction to be effective in this group for improving balance, reducing the fear of falling and improving functional reach.
A new pilot study shows that participating in AT group classes can be helpful for older people with a fear of falling. The findings show that the AT can help this group to do things they did not think they could do, empowering them to make different choices about what they do and don’ do, and how they do it.
Psychological Benefits of the A.T.
Alexander Technique students consistently report psychological improvements as an important consequence of lessons (see 'What clients say' and 'Quotes'), including more confidence and a reduction in stress, and this was found an important additional finding in the large RCT back pain study as well is in studies on stagefright in musicians (see above). There are several possible mechanisms for these benefits, and these include better balance (see above) and improvements in mobility and posture.
Mobility as a Marker of Attractiveness and Health
In one study, published in Human Movement Science, that employed various measures of mobility, training in the Alexander Technique was shown to reduce stiffness by as much as 50%. Another study found improved mobility in people with Parkinson's disease as a result of AT lessons.
Apart from the many health benefits of mobility, studies have shown a correlation between mobility and perceived attractiveness and health. An interesting example of this is a study published in Biology Letters and widely reported in the media, in which the variability and amplitude of dance moves was found to be positively associated with perceptions of attractiveness.
Posture and Self-Confidence
Lessons in the Alexander Technique are known to lead to a marked improvement in posture, and this is supported by several small studies.
Many studies have shown a strong connection between good posture and measures of the respect accorded to a person, as well as their own self-confidence and sense of personal power, and this is a benefit frequently reported by AT pupils. An interesting example of research into this connection is to be found in a study published in The Journal of Psychological Science in which good posture was found to have an even greater positive impact on confidence than real experiences of positions of power. Another study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology showed that good posture was positively associated with confidence in one's own thoughts and sense of oneself.
"We already notice, with growing amazement, very striking improvements in such diverse things as high blood pressure, breathing, depth of sleep, overall cheerfulness and mental alertness, resilience against outside pressures, and in such a refined skill as playing a musical instrument."
Professor Nicholas Tinbergen, Nobel Prize winner for medicine and physiology
"Alexander's method lays hold of the individual as a whole, as a self-vitalising agent. He reconditions and re-educates the reflex mechanisms and brings their habits into normal relation with the functioning of the organism as a whole. I regard this method as thoroughly scientific and educationally sound.”
Professor George E Coghill, Nobel Prize winning anatomist and physiologist
More quotes from well-known people.
"Alexander has done a service to the subject by insistently treating each act as involving the whole integrated individual, the whole psycho-physical man. To take a step is an affair not of this or that limb solely, but of the total neuromuscular activity of the moment - not the least of the head and neck."
Sir Charles Sherrington, Nobel Prize winner in medicine
A Systematic Review of Medical and Health-Related Studies on the
A paper published January 2012 (before the publication of the neck pain study above) in The International Journal of Clinical Practice, titled "Evidence for the effectiveness of Alexander Technique lessons in medical and health-related conditions: a systematic review" concluded that "strong evidence exists for the effectiveness of Alexander Technique lessons for chronic back pain and moderate evidence in Parkinson’s-associated disability. Preliminary evidence suggests that Alexander Technique lessons may lead to improvements in balance skills in the elderly, in general chronic pain, posture, respiratory function and stuttering."
A large, well-designed, well-conducted, randomised, controlled trial for people with chronic neck pain (of a median duration of 6 years) published in the Annals of Internal Medicine in November 2015 here found that people who had an average of 14 Alexander Technique lessons had a 31% reduction in pain and associated disability compared with the group who received usual GP-led care alone. These benefits were sustained over the following 7 months during which participants were followed.
Although this study only examined the effectiveness of 14 lessons for people with chronic neck pain, extrapolating from the back pain trial and other studies, it seems reasonable to expect that a longer course of lessons would lead to considerably more improvement.
A subsequent paper, published in January 2018, shows that much of the benefit of A.T. lessons in the neck pain study came from increased "self-efficacy", defined as a person's confidence that they can manage their own situation. 87% of participants who had A.T. lessons reported a significant improvement in the way they lived and cared for themselves one year after the intervention, compared with 25% of controls who received usual care. The paper concluded that "Alexander Technique lessons led to long-term improvements in the way participants lived their daily lives and managed their neck pain. Alexander lessons promote self-efficacy and self-care, with consequent reductions in chronic neck pain."
See below for evidence for the effectiveness of the Alexander Technique for the following other medical conditions:
Reviews of evidence for the health benefits of the A.T.
Balance and fear of falling in older people
Skilled performance and Stagefright
Musculo-skeletal conditions (apart from back pain and neck pain, described above). Knee osteoarthritis
Improved Mobility, Better Posture and Psychological Benefits
A review of evidence for the A.T. by NHS Choices for various health conditions, found that there is 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.
NHS Choices also states that "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."
Neck pain study
There is strong evidence for impressive long-term benefits from Alexander Technique lessons for people with chronic neck pain in a major study published in the notable U.S Journal The Annals of Internal Medicine.
A comprehensive and clearly presented overview of research on the AT (with full references) can be found on Julia Woodman's website here.