ONE of the most common causes of long-term sickness among workers in the UK is back pain. According to the NHS, people suffering from back problems took an incredible 9.3 million days off work between them in 2008/09.

The condition comes second only to stress as a reason for people taking extended periods away from their job and the figures say a lot about the way we live our lives today.

Indeed stress itself can be a cause of back pain, along with strained muscles or ligaments, wear and tear and bad posture.

The NHS says most of us will experience it and that although painful, back pain isn’t serious in most cases. The pain generally lasts from a few days to a few weeks and usually clears up after about six weeks In most cases however, the causes of sudden onset back pain (the most common type) are hard to establish.

Mark Blackburn, who runs his own clinic in York, said he was inspired to learn more about a treatment called the Alexander Technique after suffering from back pain himself.

Mark describes the treatment as a “practical way of improving posture by aligning the head, neck and back muscles.”

“It can reduce pain and undo tension and stress,” he said. “It’s a great leveller – creating self-awareness and development and improving overall wellbeing.

“I first heard about Alexander Technique aged 18 through a Channel 4 documentary on the subject. I developed a problem with my back that was so painful, I had to lie down on my back for relief.

“I was looking for reasons why this was the case. Watching that programme and understanding that it is a person’s own ‘use’ that can lead to a problem that manifests itself physically, made perfect sense to me. What I was doing in the ‘use of myself’ was leading me to have that problem with my lower back.”

According to Mark, the technique was developed in the 1890s by Frederick Alexander, an Australian actor who was worried his hoarse voice would end his career.

Alexander worked out that he was straining his vocal organs through tension not only in his head and neck but in his entire neuromuscular system.

So how does it actually work? Mark explained: “The Technique helps you to move with better poise and balance by teaching you to undo bad habits and rediscover how to use your muscles in a co-ordinated way to avoid poor posture.

“Problems stem from overusing some muscles and neglecting others in various parts of the body. As the imbalance is corrected, you adopt a more effortless upright posture, whether you’re seated, standing or moving. Sitting becomes more comfortable, and you stop slouching.

“The Alexander Technique addresses problems by examining the cause and affecting a change, thereby improving function and preventing problems recurring.”

He believes the technique can help a wide range of conditions, ailments and disabilities.

“People who suffer with chronic back pain and have tried other therapies often wish they had come to the Alexander Technique earlier as it offered them the best long-term solution,” he said.

“The Alexander Technique can be used in everyday life, improving performance in many professions including sport, music and acting. It is useful during pregnancy where it helps relieve complaints such as backache and tiredness.

“It can also be very effective in reducing the symptoms of computer-related work, including RSI, and has helped people who are living with MS (multiple sclerosis) and ME (myalgic encephalopathy). Overall, the Alexander Technique boosts confidence, builds strength and stamina and stimulates self-discovery.”

To find out more, visit the website of the Society of Teachers of The Alexander Technique at

• Mark Blackburn can be contacted via email at, or visit his web page at