Effects of Alexander Technique on Muscle Activation During
a Computer-Mouse Task:
Potential for Reduction in Repetitive Strain Injuries

Elyse Shafarman, M.A. & Mark W. Geisler, Ph.D.

Psychophysiology Laboratory
Department of Psychology
San Francisco State University

Previous studies indicate that Alexander Technique, a method of sensory-motor education, improves posture and reduces the psychological and physiological signs of chronic stress reactions. Because poor posture and stress are risk factors for Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI’s), this study asked whether Alexander Technique could be used to reduce risk. To test this question, 16 highly experienced practitioners of Alexander Technique, and 16 matched controls without Alexander Technique experience performed a “click and drag” task with a standard computer mouse. Surface electromyography (sEMG) was used to record activation of forearm flexor/extensor muscles during a Habitual movement trial (i.e. without instruction) and an Alexander Technique movement trial (simplified written guidelines for applying Alexander Technique were provided). Because forearm tension is associated with development of RSI’s, reduction in sEMG was taken as an indicator of reduced risk. Analysis of normalized data showed that control participants significantly decreased sEMG by 20.7%, when they employed Alexander Technique methods, but 51.1% of the variance in this response was explained by an increase in movement duration. Alexander Technique practitioners significantly decreased sEMG activation by 38.5% when they employed Alexander Technique methods. Only 4.6% of the variance was explained by increased movement duration, which suggests that reduced muscle activation could be maintained during quicker movement. Although less reliable, analysis of raw data showed that Alexander Technique practitioners had 31.4% lower muscle activation than control participants across all movement trials. The conclusion that Alexander Technique training may protect against RSI’s by increasing conscious control over muscle activation, and by reducing levels of muscle activation during movement is supported. However, reducing sEMG at the forearm may not, by itself, be a valid indicator of reduced risk. Comprehensive methods of assessing the effects of Alexander Technique on injury prevention are needed.