The business case for better posture

It's the second biggest cause of sick leave - but is there an answer to the prayers of back pain sufferers?

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

For those of us who spend our day crouched over a desk in front of a computer, back pain is a very real problem. And it’s becoming a big drain on UK plc – some estimates reckon that it costs British business five million sick days a year. So we were delighted to read a report in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal, which claims that posture improvements taught using the Alexander technique may be able to slash the number of days being lost to this modern-day office blight.

The BMJ says back pain ‘causes more disability than almost any other condition in Western societies’, with about half the UK population affected by it and 15% enduring chronic complaints. Until now, there hasn’t been much that sufferers could do about it, because there haven’t really been any effective long-term treatments available – but a new study by scientists at the University of Southampton has discovered that the Alexander technique (in conjunction with exercise) does actually seem to work.

The Alexander technique, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a personalised way of teaching patients to improve their own posture and co-ordination. You might think that as a fully-grown adult, you know how to sit, stand and walk. But these lessons are designed to show you otherwise – and teach you how to use long-forgotten muscles to stop slouching and improve your posture in the long term. And you don’t even have to go to the gym…

This study, the first major trial of the technique, was carried out on 579 patients with chronic back pain. It found that after one year of lessons, patients suffered just 3 days of back pain a month – as opposed to 21 days for those receiving normal care. If you throw in an exercise programme, you feel the benefits even more quickly (apparently massage works a bit, but only for the first three months). And best of all, ‘the results should apply to most patients with chronic or recurrent back pain,’ the researchers said.

All of which is good news for Britain’s bosses. If you want to reduce the number of staff calling in sick because they’re too sore to get out of bed, perhaps you should cut down on the outdoor team-building courses and spend the money on an Alexander technique teacher instead...


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