Robin McKenzie has been an influential voice in the evolving field of spine care over the past 20 years or more. He’s a physiotherapist from New Zealand who’s been on a mission – helping people take care of their own back problems.
Though I’ve never been officially trained in the McKenzie system, I do incorporate some of his insights into my approach, and I want to share with you some of his basic principles.
Finding a favorable position or gentle movement
The McKenzie method is based on the principle that most people with low back pain can discover a rest position or gentle movement that gives them some relief. You can then build strategically on your favorable position or movement to gradually reintroduce your low back to a wider range of easy, pain-free motion, eventually eliminating your problem altogether.
You may have to try more than one rest position (or movement) before you find the solution that’s right for you. In Part 2 this article I’ll walk you through the steps you can take to find the right position for you. But before you try it for yourself, you need to understand a second principle of the McKenzie method – the process of pain centralization.
How do you know if you’re on the right track?
As you search for the favorable rest position or gentle movement that will give you relief, what are the cues to tell you that you’ve found the right solution?
If you’re lucky, you’ll find a position that lessens your pain. That’s a clear signal that you’ve found the right self-care approach for yourself.
But you can use a second clue, too. The pain can shift its location, retreating from the leg or buttock area and centralizing in the low back alone. This is a sign of improvement. So if you experience pain centralization, you can also have confidence you’re on the right track.
Are you an extender or a flexer? Your strategy to put these principles into practice.
Here’s a picture of one of the basic movements of the spine – backward bending, known in medical circles as spinal extension.
Dr. McKenzie estimates that, for about 60% of low back pain sufferers, the position or movement that gives relief is a gentle version of spinal extension.
Another 30% of low back sufferers prefer a position of flexion.
The remaining 10% need to use a more complex combination of flexion or extension with side-bending or rotation in order to get relief.
Read Part 2 to discover how to put these strategies to work for you.
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