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Senior Correspondent

Back Pain and the McKenzie Method

Back Pain and the McKenzie Method


Like millions of people who suffer back pain, I rely on a system developed by Robin McKenzie, a physiotherapist in New Zealand.

Since I was 30 years old, I have hurt my lower back many times. Eventually, I suffered from sciatica, a toothache-like pain that runs down my left buttock to my ankle. This is caused by a bulging lumbar disc.

I tried physiatrists, chiropractors and physical therapists. Then I was given a copy of "Treat Your Own Back" written by McKenzie. Since then, I have not been to any type of healthcare professional for help.

McKenzie discovered the principle of his system by accident. He told a patient to lie face down on a treatment table. But the end of the table had been raised for a previous patient. Unnoticed by any of the clinical staff, the patient lay face down with his back arched and overstretched for about five minutes.

When McKenzie returned, he was extremely concerned to find the patient lying in what, at the time, was considered to be a very damaging position. However, the patient told McKenzie that he felt great.

Because of this incident, the McKenzie system is now used by thousands of doctors, physiotherapists and chiropractors treating patients with back pain.

To take care of yourself, you have to understand the importance of that inward curve in the small of your back. This hollow is called the lumbar lordosis. You lose the lordosis when sitting or lying improperly and bending forward. Back problems develop when you eliminate the curvature for long periods.

It is essential that you read the entire book before attempting any of the exercises that are only summarized below. The McKenzie system is more extensive than just exercise, but reading about the exercises should give you a better understanding of the system.

There are seven exercises in the program. The first four are extension (bending backward), and the remaining three are flexion (bending forward) exercises.

1. Lie face down with arms at sides and head to one side. Take deep breaths and relax for a few minutes.

2. Lie face down and place your elbows under your shoulders so that you lean on your forearms. Stay in this position a few minutes.

3. Remain face down. Place your hands under your shoulders. Lift your head and torso off the floor by straightening your arms. Hold for a few seconds. Do not raise your lower body.

4. Stand upright with your feet slightly apart. Place the palms of your hands in the small of your back with your fingers pointed at your spine. Bend your trunk backward at the waist as far as you can. Keep your knees straight. Hold for a second or two. (This is my favorite exercise. I do it whenever my back feels tired.)

5. Lie on your back with knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Using your hands, bring your knees to your chest. Hold for a second or two.

6. Sit on a chair with your feet well apart. Let your hands rest between your legs. Bend your trunk forward and touch the floor. Return to the starting position.

7. Stand upright with your feet apart and knees straight. Bend forward and run your fingers down your legs as far you can reach. Return to standing position.

For more information, go to: http://www.mckenziemdt.org/

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