Get back on the straight and narrow

Back pain? When it comes to the crunch, the solution could be a few gentle prods.
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The Independent Culture
I FOUND spinal touch therapy by accident. Too much computer work had left my back feeling as if someone had stabbed a red-hot poker under my shoulder blades, and driving, in particular, was agony. My GP couldn't help, apart from advising painkillers, so I booked a massage at the Park Practice, an alternative clinic in Greenwich, south-east London. Although it was soothing, it didn't kill the pain. On the way out, I picked up a leaflet entitled "Spinal Touch", explaining how the therapy could help back and shoulder problems. With its talk of "energy fields" and "releasing blockages", I was a little sceptical, but frankly, I would have hung upside- down from Tower Bridge if anyone had told me that it would get rid of the pain. So, I made an appointment.

A few days and several packs of paracetamol later, I was talking to Claire Hayes, a spinal touch therapist, at the clinic. She took a detailed medical history before asking me to strip to bra and knickers. I had to stand on what looked like a pair of bathroom scales, with slots for the feet and a rather sinister-looking plumb-line attachment that measured the straightness of the spine. Then I had to get on to the couch, face down. I was surprised at the lightness of Hayes' touch. There were no osteopathic cracks and crunches - just a very gentle touching either side of the spine. Then a little more work on my shoulders, and that was it - quick and painless, and very restful. It was all so gentle, in fact, that I had little hope of it doing any good.

Only when I had driven halfway home did I realise the pain had vanished. I turned the steering wheel into a sharp left-hand corner and winced, expecting a sharp stab from shoulder to waist, but there wasn't even a twinge.

Spinal touch was developed in the 1900s by an English engineer, John Hurley, who called it Aquarian Age Healing. Hurley saw the effects of gravity on buildings and applied the same principles to the human body. "He established that the body's centre of gravity is in the sacrum [the fused bones at the base of the spine, on which the spine rests]. If this is out of balance, the whole body is put under strain trying to correct that balance," says Hayes.

Angela Eckles, a holistic therapist from Dartford in Kent, agrees. She has been using spinal touch as the basis for healing work for more than 12 years. "Poor posture creates bad health," she says. "If the sacrum is out of line, you get a distortion in posture. Muscles become tight and blood can't get through. That means muscles are starved of oxygen and nutrients, and you get a build-up of fatigue poisons, such as lactic acid."

Spinal touch, by working on nerve centres, relaxes the muscles, allowing the posture to straighten naturally. But there is a down side. Newly relaxed muscles can release trapped toxins into the bloodstream, leaving patients feeling hungover and headachy. This clears within a couple of days, and drinking lots of water will help to flush out the toxins from the body.

"Once the body is realigned with its centre of gravity, you actually feel lighter," Eckles says. "People walk on air. They feel more confident. It's excellent for anyone who is totally stressed out. People often find that they have a surge of energy and tackle jobs they have been putting off for months."

Eckles says she usually sees people once a week for three or four weeks, then fortnightly, monthly and finally it tapers off to just an occasional "top up". Her success stories include postural scoliosis, where a teenager's skewed spine was brought back into line; sciatica, where spinal touch relieves painful pressure on nerves; easing back-pain during pregnancies; and relieving longstanding and debilitating pain from whiplash and other structural injuries. And because the touch is so gentle, it is suitable for everyone.

One of Eckles' patients was apparently able to discard her neck brace and stop taking heavy-duty painkillers after one session. Others found their improvement was more gradual, happening over a period of two weeks or so.

Carol Haine, 34, a jeweller from Horsham in West Sussex, found that spinal touch relieved her locked shoulders and, she believes, "cured" her migraines and hayfever. Haine also found her asthma vastly improved and after regular sessions now no longer needs to use her Ventolin inhaler. "The knock- on effect is quite incredible," she says.

Timothy Morley, who is a consultant spinal surgeon at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, said he "didn't disapprove" of a therapy like spinal touch. "The bit about the centre of gravity is definitely true. It is quite good to learn about posture, and there is no doubt that patients should be treated holistically," he agrees.

And how would he explain the improvement in both Carol Haine's asthma and hayfever? "You mustn't ignore the psychological element," he says. "If you can tell patients that they have a certain amount of control over their bodies, then they will improve."

For a national list of spinal touch therapists, or to book an appointment, telephone: Angela Eckles at home: 01322 270044 (pounds 35 first visit, pounds 25 thereafter) or at the Castle Street Clinic, Guildford - 01483 300400 (pounds 35 then pounds 28)

Claire Hayes at the Park Practice, Greenwich - 0181-858 8557

(pounds 25 first visit, then pounds 20)