The ATLAS Trial – alleviating chronic neck pain
Chronic neck pain is a common condition in adults. A UK survey of the general population indicated that 18% of people reported neck pain with over half reporting neck pain lasting more than a year. Chronic neck pain is the second most common physical problem for consulting a GP.
The ATLAS research project was a large clinical trial run by the Department of Health Sciences at the University of York and funded by Arthritis Care. The trial provided Alexander Technique or Acupuncture lessons for people with chronic neck pain. The patients had had chronic neck pain for at least three months and were in ‘significant pain’ determined by a pain score of 28% or above on the Northwick Park neck pain questionnaire (NPQ) a commonly used self-reporting questionnaire. Patients were recruited by participating GPs in Leeds, York, Sheffield and Manchester. When a person agreed to become involved on the trial, the individual was then randomly allocated to one of three groups:
- Alexander Technique lessons plus usual care
- Acupuncture sessions plus usual care
- Usual care alone (the control group)
A total of 517 people with chronic non-specific neck pain participated in the trial with 173 people receiving Alexander Technique lessons and 172 people receiving acupuncture sessions. The remaining third were the control group and received just ‘usual care’ through GP practice. All participants completed the NPQ questionnaire at the start of the study, at the end of the sessions and at intervals of 3 months, 6 months and 1 year after the study was completed.
A year after the study was completed participants experienced nearly a third less pain and associated disability at the end of the trial than at the start. The Alexander Technique group scored a 31% reduction and the acupuncture group a 32% reduction. The report concluded both disciplines led to statistically and clinically relevant reductions in pain and associated disability, compared with ‘usual care’ one year after the study. Improvements were also seen in the mental health of the two groups as revealed by the self reported quality of life questionnnaires. No safety issues relating to Alexander Technique or acupuncture were identified in the trial.
I was introduced to the Alexander Technique by way of the ATLAS trial which in turn introduced me to Annie my teacher. Having never heard of this technique before, I was unsure of what to expect. Meeting Annie though quickly put me at ease. It very quickly became apparent that the Alexander Technique was different to anything I had previously experienced in over 30 years of back and neck pain treatments. What a revelation! As the lessons progressed the tension levels in my neck reduced and so the pain. I have carried on putting into practice what I have learnt with Annie since the trial finished. I remain virtually pain free and am also able to deal with the cause quickly. I am now a firm believer in the Alexander Technique and would recommend Annie in particular.