What is the McKenzie Method for Back and Neck Pain

By Robin Angus PT, MS, Cert. MDT

Have you heard a friend, colleague, or loved one say that she had back or neck problems and worked with a physical therapist who helped her resolve her pain using the McKenzie Method? Did this leave you wondering what the McKenzie Method is about and whether it could help you or a friend with spinal or extremity pain?

The McKenzie Method, also known as Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT), is an evidenced based assessment and treatment philosophy of active patient involvement used by physical therapists and their patients all over the world for neck, back, and extremity problems. It involves a comprehensive and logical step-by-step process to quickly evaluate the patient’s problem. The process begins with a thorough history and testing of postures, repeated movements, and sustained positions to identify distinct patterns of pain and movement responses that are objective, reproducible, and reliable.

Centralization is the most common pattern of pain response in the neck and back. This occurs when pain that has spread from the back or neck down the leg or arm reverses, returning to the center of the back or neck, and eventually ceases. If this outcome occurs through a series of movements, postures, and education, treatment is usually successful and lasting.

McKenzie treatment utilizes a series of specific individualized exercises that are prescribed based on pain and movement responses during the assessment. These exercises are based on the identified directional preference of movements that centralize or abolish pain. While some patients do require procedures by the physical therapist to fully resolve their pain, patients empowered with the McKenzie Method’s knowledge and tools may effectively treat themselves, safely restoring full mobility and function. By learning how to self-treat the current problem, patients learn how to minimize the risk of recurrence and rapidly self-treat recurrence if it occurs.

Physical therapists learn the McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy through The McKenzie Institute’s post-graduate training program. Providers who have successfully completed the full course program and passed a competency-based credentialing examination attain primary certified status.

Can you benefit from the McKenzie Method?

  • Are there periods in the day when you have no pain? Even 10 minutes?
  • Is the pain confined to areas above the knee or above your elbow?
  • Have you had more than one episode of low back pain or neck pain or joint pain over the past months or years?
  • Do you feel worse during or right after prolonged bending or stooping, such as when making beds, vacuuming, and gardening?
  • Do you feel worse when sitting for prolonged periods or on rising from the sitting position, such as after watching TV or working on the computer?
  • Do you feel worse when inactive and better when on the move?
  • Do you feel better when walking?
  • If you have answered yes to more than 2-3 questions, your chances of benefiting from The McKenzie Method® are very good.

If you have any of the following, the McKenzie Method may help improve your condition:

  • Lumbago
  • Sciatica
  • Bulging disc(s)
  • Difficulty bending due to stiffness or pain
  • Pain that starts in the back or neck and spreads to the buttock(s) and / or leg(s) or shoulder(s) and / or arm(s)
  • Intermittent pins and needles or numbness in the feet or hands
  • Aching pain into the elbows or knees
  • Arthritic pain in hips or buttocks, shoulders or upper arms

Reference: http://www.mckenzieinstituteusa.org