Correcting harmful postural habits with the Alexander Technique
The Institute of Dental Ergonomics states that: ‘Seventy-five percent of dentists and hygienists suffer from musculoskeletal disorders that affect occupational health and the quality of practice life. In fact, according to a 1997 study, musculoskeletal disorders are the leading reason for early retirement among dentists; 29.5% of dentists cut their career short because they are in pain.’ (Source: Ergonomics and the Dental Care Worker, October 1998).
By being more aware of how we use the body, it is possible to perform the demanding and complex work of dentistry without crunching the neck, straining the back or over-tensing muscles.
In this regard the Alexander Technique (the work of FM Alexander, 1869-1955) should be of particular interest to dentists. Alexander is noted for his detailed study of how people use their bodies in daily activity and the effects of poor posture on health and well-being.
The Technique helps people to improve posture, release muscle tension and relieve persistent pain. It is particularly effective in preventing and alleviating stress or anxiety, or other conditions such as neck, joint and back pain.
Approximately 75% of adults in the UK suffer one or more bouts of lower back pain in their life (www.patient.co.uk). Two-and-a-half million people have back pain every day of the year. The cost to the NHS, business and the economy is an estimated £5 billion per year (BackCare – the charity for healthier backs – www.backcare.org.uk).
Dr Jack Stern, Professor of Neurosurgery at New York Medical College, said of the Alexander Technique: ‘The Alexander Technique stresses unification in an era of greater and greater medical specialisation. It is a system for teaching people how to best use their bodies in ordinary action to avoid or reduce unnecessary stress and pain. It enables patients with back trouble to get better faster and stay better longer. This is undoubtedly the best way to take care of the back and alleviate back pain.’
People who benefit from Alexander Technique lessons include dentists with musculoskeletal problems, business people affected by stress and strain, teachers with vocal strain and students who have developed rounded shoulders and slouched backs. Artists, musicians, actors and athletes use it widely to improve performance and to enable easier movement. The Technique is taught at the Juilliard School of Performing Arts in New York, at the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, and DIT College of Music in Dublin.
Poor posture is endemic because lifestyle has become sedentary. We constantly see people slouching in chairs, crouching over desks and holding the phone between head and shoulder with subsequent bad effects on health and well-being.
The Technique has received widespread acclaim because it enables people to maintain good posture and movement under modern living conditions.
George Bernard Shaw once said: ‘Alexander established not only the beginnings of a far reaching science of the apparently involuntary movements we call reflexes, but a technique of correction and self-control which forms a substantial addition to our very slender resources in personal education.’
During a course of lessons physical tensions are slowly undone and people discover a new ease of movement and increased energy. They may even gain as much as an inch in height as their spines become less compressed.
The Alexander Technique concentrates on correcting harmful postural habits in how we sit, stand, walk and perform all of our daily activities. It teaches us not only how to use our body with tension-free poise, but is also an effective tool in coping with stress.
It is not a therapy or exercise regime. It is an educational process in which a person is made aware of how they are straining their bodies and then taught how to stop doing it.
The Technique is taught on a one-to-one basis in half-hour lessons. Lessons in the Alexander Technique are tailored to individual needs. At the first lesson the pupil’s posture, movements and muscular tensions are observed during a series of typical daily activities. By a gentle hands-on process tense muscles are released. This allows the head to be guided up and the spine to lengthen. In the same way round shoulders are eased out. A pupil is then physically guided in how to sit, stand, walk and perform daily activities with good posture and movement.
It is not a quick fix; it is a gradual process of correcting harmful postural habits that have become engrained. Many people may gain considerable benefit from 12-15 lessons; others may require up to 30 lessons.
A dentist can spend up to 60,000 hours in a lifetime working in tense and distorted positions, with consequent musculoskeletal problems. Dentistry does not lend itself to good posture, however it is possible with instruction and practise to correct the harmful postural habits that may be the cause of such stress and pain. Essentially the Technique helps to get to the root of the problem rather than treating the symptoms.
Qualified teachers of the Alexander Technique have completed a three-year training course and are approved by STAT (Society of Teachers of the Alexander Technique – visit www.stat.org.uk for more details).
You can contact Frank at 35 Callary Road, Mount Merrion, Co. Dublin; tel: 01 288 2446; email: [email protected]; web: www.alexandertech-dublin.com.