McKenzie exercises are effective for reducing your back pain especially if it has been traveling down your leg. ¬†People with back pain lasting more than 3 months are good candidates for McKenzie exercises.¬† Based on the latest research, the McKenzie Method of treating back pain is equally effective to other approaches.¬† This includes manual therapy and stabilization or strengthening exercise. ¬†The key is to identify the right exercises for you to perform.¬† There is no one-size-fits-all approach for managing back pain.
What are McKenzie Exercises?
Actually there are no specific exercises which are unique to the McKenzie Method.¬† Robin McKenzie was a physical therapist from New Zealand who popularized his approach to assessing people with back pain.¬† His approach is more about how to assess a person with back pain, not special exercises.¬† The McKenzie Method of assessment and treatment is based on several key principles.¬† These are the principles your physical therapist utilizes when evaluating you on your first day.¬† Here is a very brief explanation of 3 of those principles:
- End-range movements. Exercises are performed through a full range of motion.¬† This may include exercising with some back pain.¬† The key is that each movement is performed through an increasing range of motion provided the appropriate response is occurring (see principle #3 below).
- Repeated movements. Once the correct exercise is identified, it is repeated often.¬† Multiple sets of 10 or more repetitions are performed several times per day.¬† Sometimes we recommend the exercise be performed every hour during the day. Most exercises are performed in and out of the range of movement instead of holding each stretch.
- Centralization. This refers to the location of pain you experience during and after the exercise.¬† In simple terms, you want your pain to decrease in your leg even if it increases in your back.¬† Pain traveling down your leg is a sign of a longer recovery.¬† You want the pain out of your leg as soon as possible.¬† Identifying the right exercise to alleviate your leg pain first is the responsibility of your physical therapist.
Which Exercises are Right for You?
The 3 principles described above, help your physical therapist identify the right exercise approach for you.¬† The most important principle is that of centralization.¬† It is very important that your leg pain does not worsen during or immediately after performing your exercises.¬† Sometimes, your back pain gets a little worse as your leg pain gets better.¬† This is a sign of improvement.¬† However, if your back feels better and your leg feels worse, you are not on the right track.¬† Below are several common exercises we prescribe to help alleviate leg and back pain.
If sitting or bending forward alleviates your pain, flexion exercises might be best for you.¬† Your physical therapist will conduct an examination to confirm whether or not these are the right exercises.¬† For flexion in sitting, position yourself close to the edge of chair.¬† Spread your knees apart.¬† Relax your back and slowly bend forward towards the floor.¬† Do not bounce or force the movement.¬† With each repetition, try to move closer and closer to the floor.¬† If you can touch the floor easily, try to reach behind you.¬† Remember, you do not want pain to increase or spread down your leg.¬† Perform 10 repetitions several times per day.
If walking or leaning backwards alleviates your pain, extension exercise might be best for you.¬† Your physical therapist will conduct an examination to confirm whether or not these are the right exercises.¬† The most effective extension exercise is performed in the lying position.¬† Your arms do all the work.¬† Your back remains relaxed.¬† With each repetition, try to move further and further.¬† Remember, you do not want pain to increase or spread down your leg. ¬†Pain in your back is okay. Perform 10 repetitions several times per day.
Shift Correction Exercises
If you look or feel crooked, you may have a lateral shift.¬† Usually, people shift their shoulders away from the side of their back pain.¬† It is important to correct any shift before commencing with extension or flexion exercises.¬† This can be tricky.¬† It typically requires careful examination by your physical therapist.¬† The standing side glide is one exercise that is effective for correcting a shifted posture.¬† Start very gently and remember you do not want pain traveling down your leg.¬† Start with 10 repetitions several times per day.
Keys to Success with McKenzie Exercises
If you are struggling with back and leg pain, try these exercises.¬† Do any of these exercises feel good?¬† More importantly, do any alleviate or decrease your leg pain.¬† If so, continue with them.¬† Any movement or exercise which causes pain to spread down your leg is not right for you.¬† It is best to have your physical therapist examine you before starting.¬† This way you can avoid any unnecessary increase in pain.¬† If you would like some help, call your physical therapist to schedule an appointment.¬† We are here to help you move pain free.