Alexander Technique and Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI)
The usual medical explanation for RSI is ‘over-use’. Alexander teachers would combine this with the concept of ‘misuse’. Through Alexander lessons we can become aware of our poor postural habits, even if they have persisted for years or decades, and trigger our original patterns to work more effectively again.
To understand the structural basis of the Alexander Technique, let’s start with the head. The head sits at the top of the spine and weighs 10-14 lbs in the average adult. The spine is curved in an S-shape, with a limited amount of flexibility. Because of the curvature, the spine has the ability to absorb shocks, and allow fluid, balanced movement. The spine is the anchor point for the muscle attachments of the arms and legs, as well as the origin of the nerves to the limbs. If we lose the optimal length of the spine, all our body functions are compromised. All our actions are dependent for their efficiency on the optimal relationship of the head and the spine.
The Alexander Technique focuses on this head, neck, back relationship, so is applicable to any movement we perform. The benefits for sufferers of RSI are obvious - when we are sitting at a desk we can still perform our actions with good functioning. A great deal of attention is now being paid to the office environment, and well balanced seating, and yet it is still possible to slump on a good chair, and therefore restrict our movements and breathing, and more specifically, the nerve supply to our arms. Sitting is a complex and difficult activity and much harder on the body than standing. Good chairs and a well designed work station are an important step. The most important factor, however, is to look at how people sit and use their desks. An excellent form of seating is a saddle chair, yet anyone can still slump on it. Many companies have invested in new split, curved keyboards, but frequently staff don’t know how to get the maximum benefit from them It is through Alexander lessons that we can learn the widening of the shoulders and arms, and then truly benefit form this better designed technology.
The body is at its optimal balance in upright movement and any activity that takes us away from this for prolonged periods is a challenge. Any occupation that requires extensive periods of standing can lead to the hips and knees becoming stiff, and the muscles of the legs and back braced. Twisting the body routinely is probably the most damaging activity, and yet many work stations are set up in such a way that the user is twisted for much of the day. Whatever occupation we follow, the body needs to be constantly moving, in major or subtle ways. We need to learn not to become fixed or locked into position, aim for lengthening spine, and the appropriate tension for the activity. Even when holding a pen some of us use too much tension.
Many RSI sufferers have received enormous benefit from the Alexander Technique, both in promoting recovery and preventing relapse. Alexander lessons are usually taught on a one to one basis, based on gentle hands on and verbal instruction, and last for forty minutes. For real progress a long term commitment is necessary as we unlearn habits that have possibly been in place for years or decades. Many health insurers will pay for a series of lessons, as will some employers.