Many people have never heard of the Feldenkrais Method, but there are plenty of reasons why it should be on your radar. It can be used to resolve chronic musculoskeletal pain, speed recovery from injuries and/or surgery and provide relief from chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia. So what exactly is it…and how can it help you?
IT’S HOW YOU MOVE
The Feldenkrais Method (developed by Moshe Feldenkrais, DSc, an Israeli physicist, mechanical engineer and martial arts expert, after he suffered a serious knee injury) helps people become aware of the habitual movements that could be causing pain or discomfort and teaches them to replace these motions with movements that are less stressful to the body. With practice, the new movements become ingrained and automatic, and discomfort or pain is greatly minimized—pain meds can often be reduced or even stopped.
Example: If you have hip pain, you might unconsciously contract the large muscles that surround the hip joint in an effort to protect the painful area from more injury or pain. You might start to keep these muscles tight all the time—whether you’re standing, sitting, walking or sleeping. This forces other muscles to overcompensate…causes imbalance in the body…and eventually increases pain and stiffness.
Research on this treatment’s effectiveness for pain relief continues to mount. In a small study published in Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation, industrial workers who had Feldenkrais therapy showed significant reduction in neck and shoulder complaints compared with the physical therapy group. And research at California State University, Northridge, found that Feldenkrais was effective in reducing pain and decreasing disability in men and women (average age 52) with chronic low-back pain.
Important: The Feldenkrais Method is not a substitute for medical care but is often used to complement conventional medical treatment. If you have acute or severe pain, see your doctor for an evaluation before starting this treatment.
LEARNING THE METHOD
Certified Feldenkrais practitioners often have a background in physical therapy or massage, but all undergo a three-and-a-half-year accreditation program. They conduct both individual lessons (known as Functional Integration) and group sessions (Awareness Through Movement).
During individual lessons (sessions last 30 to 60 minutes), the practitioner will first ask what the client hopes to achieve—typically it will be relief from back, neck, hip or shoulder pain or recovery of mobility/function after an injury or surgery.
The practitioner will observe the client’s movements/posture and use hands-on touch to discover where he/she is tight and how his movements are painful or inefficient. During a session, the client will be guided through a variety of movements, which could include everyday actions such as bending, walking or getting up from a chair.
The practitioner will then develop a lesson plan that’s tailored to specific goals—for instance, how to climb stairs or raise arms with less pain or how to sit at a computer with less muscle tension.
During group sessions, the practitioner will lead a class through a series of slow movements. As in the one-on-one sessions, clients discover which movements can be done without pain and movement options for various functions such as reaching, getting up from a chair, etc. A movement that feels right for you might not work for the person next to you. These sessions last about an hour.
Some people get relief in one session while others need more. Some have lessons every week, like going to a regular yoga or Pilates class.
Feldenkrais sessions are not usually covered by insurance, but check with your provider. Individual sessions can run $100 or more, but group sessions typically cost $15 to $25. There are about 1,200 Feldenkrais practitioners in the US. To find a practitioner in your area, consult the Feldenkrais Guild of North America, Feldenkrais.com.
It is best to work with a practitioner who can give you customized instruction, but CDs, DVDs and MP3 downloads (available at FeldenkraisResources.com) can give you an overview of the process.
Not just for pain: As mentioned earlier, people often try the Feldenkrais Method because they suffer from chronic pain, but it’s also popular among athletes, musicians and other physically healthy people who want to learn how to move with more efficiency and less tension. It can benefit people with multiple sclerosis as well.