‘Consider the Alexander Technique for people with Parkinson’s disease who are experiencing balance or motor function problems.’
These are the new guidelines from NICE (National Institute for Care and Excellence).1
Along with other Alexander teachers, I know from experience how helpful Alexander lessons can be for anyone with balance or movement difficulties, and it is good to see these benefits being recognised more widely. The NICE advice is largely based on the findings of a clinical trial demonstrating that people with Parkinson’s were able to carry out their everyday activities with less difficulty following one-to-one Alexander lessons, compared with a control group.2 The trial also showed that the skills learnt in the lessons stayed with the people long after the lessons had finished.3 Other research suggests that verbal instructions based on Alexander principles can enable people with Parkinson’s to find better balance and mobility when standing or walking.4
The improved balance gained from learning and applying the Alexander Technique goes hand in hand with improvement in movement coordination and postural support. Again there is research to back this up.5,6,7 Studies with older people have also shown improved balance, postural stability and confidence in standing and walking following Alexander lessons or classes.8,9,10 There has even been a study comparing the walking patterns of qualified Alexander teachers with that of people of a similar age; this showed that older Alexander teachers walked more like younger adults.11,12
Benefits for balance and movement are important, not just for people with Parkinson’s but for elderly people who may be afraid of falling, and indeed for anyone engaged in any activity – sport, dance, and yoga may come to mind but we also benefit from good balance and coordination when hanging out the washing, or doing DIY or gardening.
1. Parkinson’s disease in adults. July 2017. https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng71.
2. Stallibrass C, Sissons P, Chalmers C. Randomized, controlled trial of the Alexander Technique for idiopathic Parkinson’s disease. Clinical Rehabilitation 2002;16:695–708.
3. Stallibrass C; Frank C; Wentworth K. Retention of skills learnt in Alexander Technique lessons: 28 people with idiopathic Parkinson’s disease. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 2005;9:150–7.
4. Cohen RG, Gurfinkel VS, Kwak E, et al. Lighten up: Specific postural instructions affect axial rigidity and step initiation in patients with Parkinson’s disease. Neurorehabilitation and Neural Repair 2015;29:878−88.
5. Cacciatore TW, Gurfinkel VS, Horak FB, et al. Increased dynamic regulation of postural tone through Alexander Technique training. Human Movement Science 2011;30:74−89.
6. Cacciatore TW, Gurfinkel VS, Horak FB, et al. Prolonged weight-shift and altered spinal coordination during sit-to-stand in practitioners of the Alexander Technique. Gait & Posture 2011;34:496−501.
7. Cacciatore TW, Horak FB, Henry SM. Improvement in automatic postural coordination following Alexander Technique lessons in a person with low back pain. Physical Therapy 2005;85:565−78. .
8. Batson G & Barker S. Feasibility of group delivery of the Alexander Technique on balance in the community-dwelling elderly: Preliminary findings. Activities, Adaptation & Aging 2008;32:103−119 (video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=lNf5bGRwhZA).
9. Dennis R. Functional reach improvement in normal older women after Alexander Technique instruction. Journals of Gerontology. Series A, Biological Sciences & Medical Science 1999;54:M8−M11.
10. Gleeson M, Sherrington C, Lo S, et al. Can the Alexander Technique improve balance and mobility in older adults with visual impairments? A randomized controlled trial. Clinical Rehabilitation 2015;29:244−260.
11. O’Neill MM, Anderson DI, Allen DD, et al. Effects of Alexander Technique training experience on gait behaviour in older adults. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 2015;19:473−481.
12. Hamel KA, Ross C, Schultz B, et al. Older adult Alexander Technique practitioners walk differently than healthy age-matched controls. Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies 2016;20:751−760.