What is the McKenzie Method&Reg;?

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  • Written By: Maggie J. Hall
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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The McKenzie Method® is a rehabilitative approach to diagnosing, treating, and preventing spinal problems. Diagnosis involves assessing the problem, based on pain associated with function and movement. A treatment plan based on the category of the malfunction is then developed. Sometimes referred to as MDT, the methodology was developed by a physical therapist in New Zealand as a comprehensive approach to not only assess the initial problem but to formulate a treatment plan that includes educating the patient and allowing him to manage the therapy.

The degree and type of physical therapy that a patient receives depends on the cause of the malady. Some ailments require more extensive professional treatment than others, and some might require evaluation and treatment by an orthopedist. Using cause and effect principles, a physical therapist generally examines a patient to determine what movements produce pain and where in the spine the patient feels discomfort. The ailment is then categorized into one of three McKenzie Method® classifications.


According to the McKenzie Method®, postural syndrome usually involves discomfort and pain caused by stress on soft tissue, when the patient is in certain postures or physical positions. Derangement syndrome refers to discomfort or pain felt when position changes put stress on misaligned anatomical features. This might occur in the case of bulging or ruptured discs. Dysfunction syndrome usually involves discomfort, pain, and limitation of movement caused by more serious structural abnormalities. Physical problems contributing to this syndrome might include fibrosis or scar tissue that limits function and produces discomfort when these areas undergo stress.

Exercises or manipulative therapy that extend the spine and relieve stress on problem areas are part of the treatment prescribed by the McKenzie Method®. The overall approach is designed to alleviate pain quickly, restore movement and independence, and minimize the need for professional intervention. Satisfactory results generally rely on the patient’s willingness to learn and comply with a treatment regimen. Patient education might involve teaching the patient the reason for the problem in addition to suggesting exercise programs and other measures to prevent the ailment from recurring. Heat, cold, ultrasound, and other methods of pain relief are not typically used with the McKenzie Method®.

The McKenzie Method® exercises for self-treatment are typically designed to strengthen the abdominal, back, and large leg muscles. Therapists generally demonstrate and observe patients while they perform the required exercises to ensure proper execution. The combination of exercises helps to eliminate discomfort by strengthening the muscles that provide spinal support.


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