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The McKenzie Method is a technique for treating spinal problems and related pain that is well-regarded in Australia, New Zealand, and Europe, but so far is not as well-known here in America. The McKenzie Method was created in the 1960s by New Zealand physical therapist Robin McKenzie. The concept behind his method is called Mechanical Diagnosis and Treatment, or MDT. It is a complete system that encompasses the full range of assessment or evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of disorders of the spine and extremities.

A central tenet of the McKenzie Method is that self-healing and self-treatment are important in alleviating the patient’s pain and facilitating rehabilitation. Diagnosis is an interactive process during which the patient works with a certified McKenzie physical therapist to assess pain and range of motion by working through a series of safe movements that enable the therapist to determine exercises that can most quickly heal any abnormalities. Also, no “passive” modalities—such as heat, cold, ultrasound, medications, or needles—are used during the treatment itself.

What is McKenzie Method treatment like?

The therapist works with the patient to determine whether his or her condition should be categorized into one of three syndromes – postural (related to end-range stress in normal musculoskeletal structures), dysfunction (related to end-range stress due to musculoskeletal structures shortened by scarring or fibrosis), or derangement (related to anatomical disruption or abnormality). Each of these syndromes is then addressed uniquely, using proprietary mechanical procedures involving movement, extension exercises, and static positions.

McKenzie physical therapists work with patients, emphasizing education to help them understand why each exercise or position is being used, and how it helps the healing process. The goal is to develop a pattern of active patient involvement in which patients learn the movements and then practice them at home, not just while in the therapist’s office. Many studies have indicated that this approach has many advantages—it decreases pain rapidly, and restores motor function, range of motion, and independence, all while minimizing the actual number of visits to the clinic. One 2012 study found that when used to treat lumbar disorders, the McKenzie Method “was associated with a better recovery prognosis in terms of pain, short- and long-terms disability, and reduced likelihood of undergoing surgery in the following year.”

Other studies have suggested that the McKenzie Method is more effective for treating acute low back pain than for chronic low back pain, and in general is more effective when dealing with acute pain than long-term chronic pain. The primary benefit of the McKenzie Method as opposed to traditional chiropractic manipulation is that the sense of patient involvement seems to facilitate faster and more complete healing in some patients. However, it’s important to keep in mind that chiropractic physicians are typically trained to apply a wider variety of techniques depending on the patient’s condition, and that most chiropractors also emphasize the importance of lifestyle changes (often related to exercise, nutrition, sleep and stress management) in their broader treatment plans. Because of their expertise in treating a range of musculoskeletal conditions, they are often consulted in cases involving auto-, work- and sports-related injuries.

If you are interested in finding out more about the McKenzie Method, please contact our office. We’ll be happy to explain its uses as well as how it compares with other approaches to manual therapy, including spinal manipulation and mobilization.

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