Help Your Back Pain with the McKenzie Method

Back pain is a real problem for millions of Americans. In fact, it is estimated that 50 to 75 percent of adults will experience back pain at some point in their lives(1). Some people will have stiffness in their backs, while others may have radiating leg pain, weakness or altered sensation. Those with back pain have an increased chance of the symptoms recurring.

If you suffer from back pain, there is hope. One treatment option for back pain is the McKenzie Method.

The development of the McKenzie Method for the evaluation and treatment of back pain began when Robin McKenzie, a physical therapist from New Zealand, made an observation. McKenzie had a patient lay on his stomach in an extended position. The patient, who had dealt with back pain and leg pain for ten days, found the symptoms in his leg disappeared and the symptoms moved into his back. McKenzie used this observation and spent the rest of his career studying back pain. He found specific movements and postures could rapidly eliminate symptoms. 

Today, the McKenzie Method has developed into an international institution that educates practitioners and patients about how to reduce and eliminate back pain.

This approach is different from other treatments. It does not advocate the use of passive treatments, such as ultrasound, hot or cold packs. Rather, it requires the patient’s active movements to reduce symptoms. The goal is to educate the patient about what positions will reduce and eliminate the back pain. Once the symptoms are gone, the patient is encouraged to resume normal activities and to extend and flex the spine. 

Here is what you can expect with the McKenzie Method:

• An evaluation by a McKenzie-trained therapist begins with an interview, where you are asked which positions make your back pain feel better or worse. 

• Next, repetitive movements of the spine are examined and a directional preference is determined. The directional preference is the movement that moves the pain to the center of the spine. 

• Based on the therapist’s findings, you will be asked to perform one exercise repetitively throughout the day. Some may be instructed to flex or extend the spine, while others may perform right- or left-lateral movements.

• Once your back pain is abolished and normal motion is achieved, you will be instructed in recovery of function exercises and ways to prevent future episodes. 

The McKenzie Method can also be applied to cervical and extremity pain.

Ultimately, the McKenzie Method empowers the patients to heal themselves and not to rely on health-care professionals for future episodes. For more information on the McKenzie Method, or to find a McKenzie-certified physical therapist near you, visit

Susan Lawfer is a McKenzie-certified therapist. She practices at Good Shepherd Physical Therapy-Palmerton.

(1) The Lumbar Spine Mechanical Diagnosis & Therapy Volume one
Robin McKenzie Stphen May Spinal Publications New Zealand Ltd Waikanae, New Zealand 2003.

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