Slipped disk and the Alexander Technique

A disk prolapse, or slipped disk, however caused, is always the result of too much pressure on the intervertebral disk. Typically, pressure on the front part of the disk squeezes it backwards causing it to rupture. The core of the damaged disk then sometimes presses against a nerve root. Since this squeezing of the disk is associated with a forward bending of the spine, patients are often advised to avoid bending forwards.

Though apparently sensible, this is not good advice as it causes patients to stiffen their backs to avoid bending forwards. In so doing, they increase the strain on the back - but still can't avoid bending it. [footnote] The reason they can't is the same reason they bent forwards in the first place: the harmful patterns of movement they have developed.

There is a fundamental difference between the way a back is meant to be worked and the way most people use theirs. The spine is meant to move all of a piece with no stiffening and very little bending at the intervertebral joints: the bending should occur at the joints between the head and spine and between the spine and the legs. Moving in this way leaves the spine very supple and flexible.

People who have developed a harmful habit pattern do exactly the opposite: they bend the top of the spine when they only mean to move their heads - every time. They also bend the lumbar spine (instead of flexing the hip joints) every time they sit down or bend. Even those who have had special instruction in bending their legs to lift still continue to bend their backs as well. It's small wonder that disk prolapses and other back problems are so common.

Most disk prolapses are down to harmful habits of bending the back. To stop putting pressure on our disks and allow them to heal, we need to get rid of these harmful habits. This is what the Alexander Technique does so brilliantly. To benefit, you need to have a course of Alexander lessons. To see why, read on.

If you're in a hurry you may now want to investigate what having lessons in the Alexander Technique involves.
You may even want to find an Alexander teacher straight away.

You'd think, having found out what we are doing, we could simply choose to stop it.
If it were that simple, I would not need to be writing this: someone would already have told you all you needed to know.

Somebody may have shown you that your hip joints are much lower than you thought. You may know that where you thought they were is really part of your back and you've been bending your lumbar spine instead of your legs. Even so, though you know all this, you still can't let your hip joints do the bending. It feels too wrong.

It feels too wrong. This is the problem: these harmful habits are always associated with a feeling. We feel that what we are doing to bend is what we have to do to bend. When we try to follow instructions to bend our legs, we usually feel that we are doing as asked. Yet, nine times out of ten, we are still bending our back.

This root problem: a misleading feeling of movement, properly known as "debauched kinaesthesia", is what we need to explore next.

When people do learn to avoid bending their lumbar spine, it is by severely over-tightening the back muscles to counter-act the strong muscular pull which is what was bending it in the first place (and still is trying to bend it). This then means a vast increase in back tension. This tension, often excruciatingly painful, is no more than a tug-of-war between the muscles up the front and the muscles down the back. It does nothing useful. It does mean a serious loss of flexibility, a dangerous increase in the pressure on all the the joints (even if that pressure is momentarily more evenly distributed), and an arching of the lower back. This arching is just as debilitating as the forward bend it is supposed to correct - not least because it seriously interferes with the person's ability to breathe.

So you see, when patients are given back-strengthening exercises to correct a so-called "weak back", they are not being done any favours at all.
back to text

Alexanderworks logo

Information or help

12 Rodney Street, Liverpool, Merseyside L1 2TE, UK
Tel: +44 (0)151-526 2001   or +44 (0)151-708 6172

Copyright © 2000-2001 Philip Pawley

Valid XHTML 1.0 ! Valid CSS!