Acupuncture and Alexander Technique may improve neck pain

The results of a new study on chronic neck pain (more than 3 months) has just been published. The short version: both Alexander Technique and acupuncture decreased pain by about 30% even after 1 year, which is significantly better than standard medical care which included prescription pain medication, doctors visits and physical therapy. The subjects who took lessons in Alexander Technique took on average only 14 lessons, less than the recommended 20.

The full study is published at the Annals of Internal Medicine from the American College of Physicians but is protected by a paywall:
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The importance of appearance in musical performance

To all musicians, take heed: if you look more involved and passionate while playing, you will be judged to sound better also!

Classical music competitions pit performers against each other. Obviously, the most important criterion for judges is sound. But that assumption needs a new…hearing. Because a player’s passion may be the best predictor of victory.

In a new study, nearly 200 novices had to choose the winners of 10 classical music competitions. Some heard a music clip of the top three performances. Others saw a video with sound. Still others watched a silent video. And the participants were more likely to choose the winner if they watched the silent video, in all 10 of the competitions.

Then professional musicians gave it a try. These judges also only reliably selected the winners from the silent video. Musicians selected the winner more frequently even when all they saw was an outline of the motion of the performers.

The researchers say the findings show that novices and experts make quick judgments about musical performances based on visual cues conveying involvement and passion. The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [Chia-Jung Tsay, Sight over sound in the judgment of music]

So what does this have to do with the Alexander Technique? If you are tensed and pulled down while playing an instrument, you look tensed and pulled down, which is a far cry from looking involved and passionate. As anyone who has attended a group class in Alexander Technique will have noticed, people look better and more expressive, more involved and more passionate, when they free their necks and lengthen upwards.

New 3D scan reveals foot damage from high heels

The Royal National Orthopaedic Hospital has a new scanner that allows doctors to view the foot and ankle in 3D in a full weight bearing position. That means they can even view the foot when the patient is wearing shoes. The scan they released yesterday shows clearly why high heels are problematic when it comes to foot health.

Women who regularly wear high heels often suffer from foot and ankle problems as body weight is transferred to the ball of the foot, adding pressure to sesamoids (the tiny pea sized bones under the big toe). Frequent wearing of high heels also squashes the toes, forcing the foot into an unnatural shape, which can cause intense pain and possible long-term damage such as clawing of the toes.

I have always encouraged my students to minimize their use of high heels, but I also have given them instruction in how to walk in them. I think most of the damage can be minimized by wearing heels in moderation, as the doctors in the study suggested, but also by learning how to direct the body in movement in ways that avoid undue pressure on any one point. Most women in my experience tend to avoid using the heel in high heels, and that leads to problems. Simply turning out very slightly in the hip joints while walking in heels helps to distribute the weight more evenly across the whole ball of the foot, and so might lessen the damage to the big toe shown in the video.

On Seeing and Feeling

In my teaching practice I often say things like, “See the world”, and “If you learn to see what is happening, you’re halfway there”, and “link what you’re seeing in the mirror with what you are feeling.” Now two new studies looking at our ability to copy facial expressions offer some evidence that seems to support this. And one of those showed that relying only on feeling leads to worse results.

Monkey See, Monkey Do: Visual Feedback Is Necessary for Imitating Facial Expressions

Research using new technology shows that our ability to imitate facial expressions depends on learning that occurs through visual feedback.

Studies of the chameleon effect confirm what salespeople, tricksters, and Lotharios have long known: Imitating another person’s postures and expressions is an important social lubricant.

But how do we learn to imitate with any accuracy when we can’t see our own facial expressions and we can’t feel the facial expressions of others?

Richard Cook of City University London, Alan Johnston of University College London, and Cecilia Heyes of the University of Oxford investigate possible mechanisms underlying our ability to imitate in two studies published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

In the first experiment, the researchers videotaped participants as they recited jokes and then asked them to imitate four randomly selected facial expressions from their videos. When they achieved what they perceived to be the target expression, the participants recorded the attempt with the click of a computer mouse.

A computer program evaluated the accuracy of participants’ imitation attempts against a map of the target expression. In contrast to previous studies that relied on subjective assessments, this new technology allowed for automated and objective measurement of imitative accuracy.

In one experiment, the researchers found that participants who were able to see their imitation attempts through visual feedback improved over successive attempts. But participants who had to rely solely on proprioception – sensing the relative position of their facial features – got progressively worse. [emphasis added]

These results are consistent with the associative sequence-learning model, which holds that our ability to imitate accurately depends on learned associations between what we see (in the mirror or through feedback from others) and what we feel.

Cook and colleagues conclude that contingent visual feedback may be a useful component of rehabilitation and skill-training programs that are designed to improve individuals’ ability to imitate facial gestures.

I would go further and say visual feedback, such as using mirrors or live video, is a useful component of rehabilitation and skill-training programs that are designed to improve individuals’ ability to imitate anything humans do

Alexander Technique shown to improve surgeons’ skills

""Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center reports that the Alexander Technique improved the surgical posture and technical performance of urological surgeons:

For their study with urological surgeons, the researchers studied four urology fellows and three urology residents from the medical center. After training in the Alexander Technique, the subjects demonstrated improved abilities to complete laparoscopic skills in a shorter time. The subjects showed improvements in posture, trunk and shoulder stability and the ability to perform the series of laparoscopic skills tests.

“The Alexander Technique training program resulted in significant improvement in posture and trunk and shoulder endurance,” the researchers state in their presentation. “Improved endurance and posture during surgery reduces the occurrence of surgical fatigue. Intra-operative fatigue has been shown to be associated with surgical errors. AT training has the potential to reduce the occurrence of fatigue-related surgical errors.”

Running barefoot is better

Researchers have confirmed what many Alexander Technique teachers have taught for many years. The human foot runs just fine without shoes. In fact, it runs better!

From Scientific American:

They found that when runners lace up their shmancy sneakers and take off, about 75 to 80 percent land heel-first. Barefoot runners—as Homo sapiens had evolved to be—usually land toward the middle or front of the food. “People who don’t wear shoes when they run have an astonishingly different strike,” Lieberman said.

Without shoes, landing on the heel is painful and can translate into a collision force some 1.5 to 3 times body weight. “Barefoot runners point their toes more at landing,” which helps to lessen the impact by “decreasing the effective mass of the foot that comes to a sudden stop when you land,” Madhusudhan Venkadesan, an applied mathematics and human evolutionary biology postdoctoral researcher at Harvard who also worked on the study, said in a prepared statement. But as cushioned kicks have hit the streets and treadmills, that initial pain has disappeared, and runners have changed their stride, leading to a way of high-impact running that human physiology wasn’t evolved for—one that the researchers posit can lead to a host of foot and leg injuries.

Careful what you think – your body takes it literally

The NY Times has an article summarizing the latest research in how our bodies and thoughts interact in some very surprising ways. Surprising to the scientists perhaps, but these ideas are nothing new to Alexander students. We experience them in just about every lesson!

The article mentions how people leaned forward when thinking about the future, and backward while remembering the past. I am curious if these same results would be found in native Australians. In their culture, the future is behind you, since you cannot see it, while the past is in front of you, because you can see it.

New study shows Alexander Technique preferred over exercise

From the December issue of Family Practice, an international journal aimed at practitioners, teachers, and researchers in the fields of family medicine, general practice, and primary care:

Patients’ views of receiving lessons in the Alexander Technique and an exercise prescription for managing back pain in the ATEAM trial

Background. Lessons in the Alexander Technique and exercise prescription proved effective for managing low back pain in primary care in a clinical trial.

Objectives. To understand trial participants’ expectations and experiences of the Alexander Technique and exercise prescription.

Methods. A questionnaire assessing attitudes to the intervention, based on the Theory of Planned Behaviour, was completed at baseline and 3-month follow-up by 183 people assigned to lessons in the Alexander Technique and 176 people assigned to exercise prescription. Semi-structured interviews to assess the beliefs contributing to attitudes to the intervention were carried out at baseline with14 people assigned to the lessons in the Alexander Technique and 16 to exercise prescription, and at follow-up with 15 members of the baseline sample.

Results. Questionnaire responses indicated that attitudes to both interventions were positive at baseline but became more positive at follow-up only in those assigned to lessons in the Alexander Technique. Thematic analysis of the interviews suggested that at follow-up many patients who had learned the Alexander Technique felt they could manage back pain better. Whereas many obstacles to exercising were reported, few barriers to learning the Alexander Technique were described, since it ‘made sense’, could be practiced while carrying out everyday activities or relaxing, and the teachers provided personal advice and support.

Conclusion. Using the Alexander Technique was viewed as effective by most patients. Acceptability may have been superior to exercise because of a convincing rationale and social support and a better perceived fit with the patient’s particular symptoms and lifestyle.

Alexander Technique aids back pain: now we can prove it!

Since the earliest days of the Alexander Technique, teachers and students have known from their own experiences that back pain responds very well to private lessons in the Technique. Constant back pain was in fact one of the main reasons I myself began taking lessons. The relief of that pain was the main reason I continued lessons, and why I decided to become a teacher. Yet in all these years of anecdotes, the hard evidence to prove this claim was nowhere to be found.

All that changed yesterday with the publication in the British Medical Journal of “Randomised controlled trial of Alexander technique lessons, exercise, and massage (ATEAM) for chronic and recurrent back pain“. This 5-year study of 579 patients revealed what AT teachers have suspected all along: Alexander Technique is more effective in relieving back pain than massage or exercise, the current standard medical treatments.

A series of 24 lessons in the Alexander technique taught by registered teachers provides long term benefits for patients with chronic or recurrent low back pain. Both six lessons in the Alexander technique and general practitioner prescription for aerobic exercise with structured behavioural counselling by a practice nurse were helpful in the long term; classic massage provided short term benefit. Six lessons in the Alexander technique followed by exercise prescription was almost as effective as 24 lessons.