I have been dealing with a shoulder injury for the last few months. I experienced limitations in my range of motion in my left arm, specifically when reaching up high or behind me, along with pain when I tried to move it in these directions.
For the first time in my life I was prescribed a course of Physical Therapy. I was pleased not only to be getting help with my condition, but also to gain some firsthand experience of what so many of my own Alexander Technique students go through.
Luckily my diagnosis of a possible rotator cuff tear was quickly downgraded to “just” a frozen shoulder, as I responded so quickly and well to the therapy.
From this limited experience, I found these to be the main strengths of Physical Therapy (PT):
- Knowledge and evaluation tools to assess exactly what muscle group/s are affected.
- A whole range of exercises targeting specific muscle groups to aid movement and flexibility and/or strengthening.
- Manual manipulation techniques to encourage, and indeed force, movement.
I felt, however, that a truly holistic approach to how the part (in my case the left shoulder) functions in relation to the whole was missing. I also would challenge what seemed to be a basic assumption that the patient could more or less accurately follow the instructions for specific exercises, especially when given a home program with no supervision.
It is in these two areas that I believe Alexander Technique has a lot to offer, and is likely one reason I made such good progress.
The Alexander Technique is all about HOW we do what we do. It helps us do any activity as efficiently as possible, with good balance and coordination, and using the least amount of tension necessary.
As you become skilled in applying the Alexander Technique in your life, you gain a more accurate awareness of how you use your body, and learn ways to consciously stop the poor habits of movement, posture and tension that we develop over the years.
This helped me immensely in my approach to my exercises, and also enabled me to release tension during the more forceful and/or painful moments of the manual therapy, which allowed it to be more successful.
I shudder to think how I might have coped with some aspects of Physical Therapy in my “pre-Alexander” days. In fact, while some people benefit greatly from Physical Therapy, I know others who have given up on it as it didn’t seem to be working, or worse still, have had their problem exacerbated by it. I can only guess that this, in many cases, was at least in part due to unconscious habits of poor posture and excess tension that they brought to the therapy and the exercises.
As with any profession, not all Physical Therapists are created equal, and different approaches, philosophies and trainings abound. I can only speak of my own experience, which I would categorize as a competent example of “standard” Physical Therapy practice. Being able to apply the Alexander Technique while undergoing Physical Therapy proved to be a winning combination for me, and I believe would help almost anyone make the most of their treatment.
If you’ve had Physical Therapy, what was your experience?
And if you’re also a student of the Alexander Technique, did that help you?
I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.