For people with back pain who received either the Alexander Technique, a prescription for exercise or a combination of both, the ones who maintained the most positive attitude about the intervention and its benefits were those who received Alexander Technique, either alone or combined with exercise, according to recent research.

The study, “Patients’ views of receiving lessons in the Alexander Technique and an exercise prescription for managing back pain in the ATEAM trial,” involved 359 people with back pain who participated in the “ATEAM trial.”

Within the study, subjects were randomly assigned to receive either the Alexander Technique, an exercise prescription or a combination of both. Researchers determined both interventions were effective for easing back pain, but the Alexander Technique showed the most substantial reductions, which were maintained for one year.

The goal of this follow-up study was to find out how patients perceived and experienced each of the interventions. Researchers assessed 183 people who were assigned to lessons in the Alexander Technique and 176 people who were assigned to the exercise prescription.

The main method of evaluation was the Theory of Planned Behavior questionnaire, which subjects completed prior to the intervention and again at a three-month follow-up. This survey “has been used successfully to identify and assess the beliefs and attitudes predicting health behaviors,” according to the study’s authors.

Another assessment tool the researchers tapped was an in-person interview, lasting about 20 to 50 minutes, at both baseline and three-month follow-up. About 15 members from each intervention group were selected for this portion of the study.

Results of the research revealed that baseline attitudes and intentions were equally favorable for both the Alexander Technique and exercise prescription. At three-month follow-up, there was little change in attitudes and intentions toward the exercise. Attitudes about the Alexander Technique, however, were significantly more positive three months after the study.

“The behavioral beliefs elicited in the follow-up interviews revealed that many patients who had had Alexander Technique lessons reported varying levels of pain reduction,” state the study’s authors, “and also felt that they had improved their ability to cope with and prevent back pain in the future.”

Aspects of the Alexander Technique that especially appealed to these patients with back pain were the personal attention and support from the teacher, the detailed explanations and advice about the technique as it applies to back pain, and the convenience of practicing the technique during daily life.

Authors: Lucy Yardley, Laura Dennison, Rebecca Coker, Frances Webley, Karen Middleton, Jane Barnett, Angela Beattie, Maggie Evans, Peter Smith and Paul Little.

Sources: University of Southampton and University of Bristol, United Kingdom. Originally published in Family Practice (December 2009).

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