Lessons in the Alexander Technique led to sustained benefit for people with Parkinson’s disease, according to a recent study.

“Randomized controlled trial of the Alexander Technique for idiopathic Parkinson’s disease” was conducted by C. Stallibrass of the University of Westminster School of Integrated Medicine; P. Sissons of Peta Sissons Consultancy; and C. Chalmers of the London School of Economics Department of Statistics.

Ninety-three subjects with Parkinson’s disease were randomly assigned to one of three groups: Alexander Technique, no additional intervention, or massage. This study did not compare massage and the Alexander Technique, but used massage to control for the touch and personal attention in Alexander-Technique lessons.

Subjects in the Alexander-Technique group received two Alexander-Technique lessons per week for 12 weeks. According to Alexander-Technique teacher Robert Rickover, author of Fitness Without Stress—A Guide to the Alexander Technique, the method teaches the use of the appropriate amount of effort for a particular activity, allowing more energy for all activities and helping improve freedom of movement, balance, support and coordination.

“Using skilled hand contact [an Alexander-Technique] teacher observes and assesses changes in muscle activity, balance and co-ordination resulting from mental activity and provides immediate feedback,” state the study’s authors. “[P]upils learn to recognize and adopt better thinking strategies for overall control of balance and movement.”

Subjects in the massage group received two massage sessions per week for 12 weeks. Those in the no-additional-intervention group continued with standard care for Parkinson’s disease.

Results were evaluated with the Self-assessment Parkinson’s Disease Disability Scale (SPDDS) at best and worst times of day, measuring progressive deterioration for 25 everyday activities; the Beck Depression Inventory, measuring participants’ feelings in the past week; an Attitudes to Self Scale, measuring subjects’ attitudes toward their bodies/selves; and a questionnaire on changes arising from the interventions.

Members of the Alexander-Technique group improved post-intervention as compared to the no-additional-intervention group on the SPDDS, in areas such as walking indoors and outdoors; getting dressed and undressed; turning over in bed; and writing a letter. At six-month follow-up, the mean scores of both groups had declined, but the Alexander-Technique group’s scores remained more positive than at the start of the study.

There was no statistical difference post-intervention or at follow-up for the massage group as compared to the no-additional-intervention group on the SPDDS.

Post-intervention, the Alexander-Technique group felt significantly better on the Beck Depression Inventory than the no-additional-intervention group. Members of the massage group also showed positive change on the Beck Depression Inventory.

On the Attitudes to Self Scale, subjects in the Alexander-Technique group felt significantly better at six-month follow-up than subjects in the no-additional-intervention group. The massage group showed little change on the Attitudes to Self Scale, and their results had worsened at six-month follow-up.

In response to the questionnaire on changes arising from the intervention, the massage group made eight mentions of improvement from massage in specific physical actions, compared with 59 mentions from the Alexander-Technique group. In terms of general physical improvements, the massage group made 17 mentions compared to 89 mentions from the Alexander-Technique group.

“We conclude that the positive results for the Alexander Technique group across several measures, including the most accurate type of measure of disability (self-rated) for Parkinson’s disease (the SPDDS) show that it is likely to benefit most moderately mobile, nondemented people with Parkinson’s disease who are interested in a technique for self-help,” state the study’s authors.

Source: University of Westminster School of Integrated Medicine. Authors: C. Stallibrass, P. Sissons and C. Chalmers. Originally published in Clinical Rehabilitation, November 2002, Vol. 16, pp. 695-708.