A journal of running, healthy food, mountains, bikes and technology by Julia Revitt


The McKenzie Method is a self-help treatment for people suffering from acute or chronic back pain.  I was introduced to this plan by my physiotherapist 4 years ago and swear by it.

I have suffered from back pain for about 9 years now.  Most of the time I’m fine but occasionally my back just ‘goes’.  Just about anything can cause it, from reaching into a high cupboard, sneezing or twisting whilst carrying something. I feel sharp pain on the left side of my spine in the small of my back initially and then I get a constant dragging ache until it recovers.

The McKenzie Method has drastically reduced the occurrence of my back pain and also reduced the time it takes me to recover from it.  It is no quick fix though as it requires constant attention to posture and daily exercises.  I have managed to get my pain down to one occurrence per year and the recovery down to about 4 days.  At my worst, my back was in spasm about 8 times a year and I never really fully recovered movement before the next bout.

I went to the doctors several times and was told I had ‘non specific back ache’ which is not very helpful and quite surprising as not one doctor actually looked or touched my back.  Finally, I decided to pay for a physiotherapy session at my local private hospital.  The physiotherapist examined my back and found that 2 of my lower vertebra were stiff and the one above it was over-compensating for the stiffness.  This causes the muscles surrounding the vertebra to over-stretch and tear.  Hurrah – I had a reason for my pain at last!

The physiotherapist recommended some gentle back bends to try out and for the next week I did them daily.  I returned and she was amazed at how much more movement I had in those 2 stiff vertebra – I was convinced!  The back bends, she told me, were from the McKenzie Method and she advised me to continue with them.  Being a naturally curious person, I looked it up and have been following it ever since.

Robin McKenzie set up the McKenzie Institute and has written several books on the subject.  The book I use is ‘Treat Your Own Back‘.  He believes that most lower back problems are caused by bad posture – namely slumping forward and that maintaining correct posture will eliminate the problem.

The book contains detailed instructions on how to sit and stand, how to drive, how to lift and how to lie down.  The heart of this method is that if your back problem has been caused by slumping forward then bending backwards will correct it.  There are 7 detailed exercises in the book which form the basis of preventative care.  All are designed to bring flexibility to the back after injury.  There is a really handy ‘panic page’ which should be followed as soon as acute pain is felt and detailed instructions on what to do to speed up the recovery.

I’m not saying that this method is for everyone, but if you have re-occurring lower back pain it’s definitely worth looking into.  It is controversial and requires dedication but that’s why I like it!