The McKenzie Method for Neck and Back Problems

Practitioners who use this approach emphasize that the McKenzie Method is a specific approach to spinal problems, not only a set of exercises for back pain. While there are specific exercises a McKenzie trained practitioner may use, the method also includes the overall philosophy and some special procedures:

  1. Initial assessment procedures
  2. Treatment for back problems (self-help and special procedures, if indicated)
  3. Prevention strategies for back problems
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The method itself centers on the classification of spinal disorders or conditions based on symptoms and responses to specific initial assessment procedures. Based on the classification, the patient is instructed on specific exercises to gradually centralize or abolish the pain. The classifications include:

  • Postural syndromes - back pain caused by continued stress of soft tissues while maintaining certain postures or positions.
  • Derangement syndromes - back pain caused by a change in position of the vertebrae enclosing a disc due to repositioning of the fluid nucleus of the disc; pain will change with repeated motion.
  • Dysfunction syndromes - intermittent back pain and limited movement caused by the presence of scar tissue in a shortened state; back pain occurs when these tissues are stressed.

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McKenzie Institute International for Back Pain

An organization was formed in 1982 by physical therapists in New Zealand who were using this approach to treat patients. The International headquarters is in New Zealand. The organization has branches in 26 countries throughout the world. Each branch provides courses to teach practitioners "The McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy."

The founder, Robin McKenzie, has written a number of books on the self-help approach to treatment of back pain. Recently he has written a book on the treatment of extremity problems.

If you decide to pursue this approach, most spine specialists will suggest that you visit a physical therapist that is trained in this approach. The McKenzie Institute International has a program of certification and a diploma program, and has an online listing of credentialed and diploma practitioners around the world.

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Written by Vert Mooney, MD