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  • Paul C. Weiss, PT, Dip. MDT

The McKenzie Method Works!


Early in my career as a physical therapist, at the suggestion of one of my mentors, I attended a seminar on the "McKenzie Method" of treatment of back and neck pain. During that week, I heard and saw things I did not know were possible. People with long-standing back and neck troubles found rapid, dramatic relief of their pain. They were being shown to manage these aches and pains on their own, with the emphasis being that they should not depend upon a health care provider to FIX things for them. A therapist was able to achieve such treatment outcomes with a minimum of visits. The lessons being taught were based on sound medical evidence.

I returned to the clinic and found myself able to help people in ways I could not before. I was hooked.

Over the next several years, I attended the full series of seminars offered by the McKenzie Institute and passed the credentialing examination. As I continued my training, I found myself being able to help more people and better understand what they were experiencing. I went on to complete the Diploma program, the highest level of training offered by the McKenzie Institute.

I have found with the McKenzie Method that many people can be helped quickly. By carefully listening to their experiences with back and neck pain, and performing a specific examination, a treatment program is developed that is tailored to the individual. It is based on a "cause and effect" process.

Patients are taught exercises and postures that alleviate their pains and improve their motion and function. They are also taught to avoid movements and postures that worsen their pain and decrease their movement and function. Manual therapy- hands-on techniques by the therapist- is utilized in conjunction with these exercises to make their self-treatment more effective.

Ample evidence to support the use of the McKenzie Method

A recent study identified patients whose examination findings indicated a likely positive response to a McKenzie-based treatment. Those who were given an exercise prescription based on the McKenzie Method did better than those who were given more general or non-specific exercises.

I believe that anyone who is considering back or neck surgery should be evaluated by someone well trained in the McKenzie Method. In fact, one study done on patients who were hospitalized and awaiting spine surgery showed that exercises used in the McKenzie Method were able to lead to such an improvement that surgery was canceled!

In my own experience, I've seen patients walk into the clinic with a drop foot, a sign of severe nerve compromise. On occasion, through the use of the McKenzie Method, these patients were able to leave the clinic with a vast improvement in their walking ability. The notion is that the proper exercises can take the pressure off the nerve!

One's condition need not be so severe as to consider surgery to benefit from this approach. In fact, as logic would suggest, people with less severe conditions are even more likely to respond positively.

McKenzie's approach

The McKenzie Method was developed by Robin McKenzie, a physical therapist from New Zealand. Early in his career, Mr. McKenzie focused on manual therapy. In this approach, he passively mobilized and manipulated patients in an effort to eliminate their back and neck pain. This approach was to fix a patient's problem for them, without having the patient take an active role in their recovery. In doing so, he found he was able to help many people. However, those he did help often experienced only temporary relief of their symptoms. After a short while, patients would return with the same pains. They would receive similar treatment, which provided them with only temporary relief. This was a source of frustration for both therapists and patients.

Due to the frustration, Mr. McKenzie developed a system where patients could be taught to successfully treat their own back and neck pains. What he found was that not all patients responded to the same exercises. The McKenzie Method classifies patients with back and neck pain based on which exercises and postures they would likely respond. It also identifies which patients will not likely respond to this method so that they can be recommended for other treatments.

Most important, the McKenzie Method educates the patient to understand not only WHAT exercises to do, but WHY they should be done. With such instruction, patients assist in their own healing and are able to maintain improvements long after their one-on-one time with the therapist. The McKenzie Method empowers patients to not only feel better, but to actually get better and stay better, too.


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