Physical Therapists Empower Patients – The McKenzie Method

Physical Therapists Empower Patients – The McKenzie Method

Back pain and other musculoskeletal pain can be both debilitating and frustrating, especially if it starts to interfere in work duties, daily activities, and quality of life. Imagine having the power to control your pain without the need for pain medication or surgery. The McKenzie Method teaches patients to do just that. The idea is simple: If a position, movement, or activity is causing the pain, then moving in the opposite direction may eliminate the pain. In particular, the McKenzie Method is a safe, effective, and self-directed option for low back pain and other musculoskeletal issues. The treatment principles are rooted in the body’s potential to repair itself without the need for medication, heat, cold, or surgery. Specially trained practitioners teach patients how to manage pain on their own with targeted movements and exercises.

Candidates for the McKenzie Method

An estimated 75 percent of Americans experience lower back pain at some point in their life. Both short-term and chronic back pain can be related to age, occupation, injury, overuse, pregnancy, poor posture, mechanical issues, or a chronic condition such as scoliosis.

It has become common practice for physicians to prescribe medicine or recommend surgery for back pain, but there are many alternative treatments that are equally effective. Physical therapy and the McKenzie Method are worth a try before more invasive measures. As movement experts, physical therapists empower patients with knowledge of how the body and pain works.

Often, patients are referred to PT after other tests come back normal. They report vague symptoms or generalized pain. Your PT may use the McKenzie Method to assess musculoskeletal conditions such as back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, knee pain, ankle pain, and more. Certified McKenzie clinicians are highly trained to determine if there is a “mechanical” reason for the problem.

Developed by expert physiotherapist Robin McKenzie in the 1950s, The McKenzie Method is a specialized assessment and treatment protocol for:

  • Patients with lower back pain or sciatica
  • Sacroiliac joint pain, arthritis, degenerative disc disease
  • Muscle spasms and intermittent numbness in hands or feet
  • Manage lumbar derangement or lumbar dysfunction
  • Treat chronic conditions of the spine and extremities
  • Generally helps improve mobility of the lumbar spine

Not all patients are good candidates for this type of therapy, especially those who have had back surgery. People who are self-motivated and want to live without pain do experience success when they follow a customized exercise regimen. Take this questionnaire to learn more.

According to The McKenzie Institute, this system of assessment and care is:

  • Supported by years of research, evidence, and clinical practice
  • Patients can show results in as little as two to three visits
  • Assessment-driven and individualized treatment plans
  • Active, not passive, therapy strategies for more successful management
  • Cost-efficient treatment without expensive tests or procedures
  • Non-invasive – no needles, no scalpel, no surgery
  • Care is self-directed and managed by patients
  • Preventative as patients gain lifelong knowledge and skills

What Does the McKenzie Method Involve?

Therapists trained in the McKenzie Method do not use expensive diagnostic imaging to determine what may be causing a patient’s pain. Rather, a thorough examination and evaluation help identify mechanical problems in your musculoskeletal system.

Other therapy outcomes include:

  • Determine if other testing is needed
  • Gain an understanding of the patient’s symptoms and onset and movements that cause pain
  • Identify an effective treatment plan, including prescribed exercises
  • Suggestions for appropriate postures and behaviors to adopt or temporarily avoid outside the clinic
  • Reduce symptoms and restore normal function
  • Improves spine mobility, posture, and range of motion
  • Patient education to self-treat current issues and prevent flare-ups

The overall McKenzie Method involves four primary steps: assessment, classification, treatment, and prevention. Your PT may observe you in various positions and ask you to perform specific movements. They will note your pain level or discomfort to better understand how your body is reacting to each movement.  Your therapist will analyze the information and create a comprehensive and individualized exercise plan to address each issue.

Why Give the Mckenzie Method a Try?

For patients who can benefit, PTs teach patients how to manage pain on their own with customized stretches and exercises. Some of these exercises include:

  • Prone lying, or lying flat on your stomach
  • Prone props, or lie on your stomach and prop on your elbows
  • Press-ups: Keep your back and hips relaxed, and then use your arms to press your upper back and shoulders up, similar to the upward dog yoga pose
  • Low back side glide for sciatica
  • Flexion rotation exercise for low back pain
  • Standing lumbar extension
  • Low back flexion
  • Seated and standing lumbar flexion

Your therapist may work one-on-one with you for several sessions, while also showing you a variety of exercises and stretches to do as part of a home exercise program. Initial treatment sometimes involves hands-on manual techniques to aid your recovery. Working with a PT can reduce pain, improve your overall mobility, and correct postural imbalances. Incorporating McKenzie exercises into an at-home exercise routine can quickly and safely reduce pain and improve your ability to move normally.

When it comes to combating pain, movement is often the best medicine! Ultimately, by following the prescribed exercises, the McKenzie Method empowers patients to manage their own symptoms. You can learn to take charge of your pain management in a natural way.

We’re Here to Help

If you experience short-term or chronic back pain, visiting a physical therapist can be restorative, educational, and truly life-changing. Contact Ivy Rehab for more information on overuse injuries, managing chronic pain, or to schedule an appointment to learn more about the McKenzie Method!

Article Reviewed by Holly Lookabaugh-Deur, PT, DSc, GCS, CEEAA

Holly Lookabaugh-Deur, PT, DSc, GCS, CEEAA is a practicing physical therapist and a partner and Director of Clinical Services at Ivy Rehab Network. Deur is board certified as a geriatric clinical specialist and certified exercise expert for aging adults with more than 35 years of clinical experience.  She is certified as an aquatic and oncology rehabilitation specialist and serves as adjunct faculty at Central Michigan University and Grand Valley State University.  

The medical information contained herein is provided as an information resource only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultation with healthcare professionals. This information is not intended to be patient education, does not create any patient-provider relationship, and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis, treatment or medical advice. Please consult with your healthcare provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition. If you think you have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. IvyRehab Network, Inc. disclaims any and all responsibility, and shall have no liability, for any damages, loss, injury or liability whatsoever suffered as a result of your reliance on the information contained herein.

Share this article!

Find a location that offers McKenzie Method near you