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The Mckenzie Institute

The Mckenzie Story

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What is the McKenzie Method?

The McKenzie Method® of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy® is a reliable and research proven biopsychosocial system for the mechanical assessment and treatment of musculoskeletal conditions. The McKenzie Method® encourages and relies upon patient education, empowerment, and active participation.

Viewed as radical at its inception, rejected and even derided by the established medical wisdom of the day, the McKenzie Method® is now one of the most studied diagnostic and treatment systems for musculoskeletal pain in the world. It has since received international recognition and acclaim and is taught and practiced by McKenzie-trained clinicians worldwide.

It was in 1956 in his clinic in Wellington, that Robin McKenzie first observed, by chance, a remarkable event which has changed the nature of treatment administered for the alleviation of back pain worldwide. This serendipitous event led to the development of the theories and practice that have become the hallmark of the McKenzie protocols for assessment and treatment of mechanical disorders of the spinal column.

A patient, Mr. Smith, with acute and debilitating low back pain and sciatica, extending down the leg to his knee, had received conventional therapy for weeks without improvement. On attending Robin’s clinic, he was accidentally left on a treatment table with his back overstretched in an extended position, which was considered to be medically dangerous at the time.

This chance discovery triggered Robin to question established medical thinking and so began his lifetime of research. Over the years Robin found that you must understand each patients individual pattern of pain and systematically evaluate the effects that simple movements and positions had on those pain responses. Based on the data, collected assiduously from his detailed clinical observations of over 1000 patients per year, Robin gradually developed his method. The McKenzie Method® is based on the premise that most musculoskeletal disorders of the spine and extremities, even chronic, are mechanical in nature, and, most importantly, that 80% of sufferers are able to treat themselves and avoid recurrence, without recourse to a clinician.

“If it is possible to teach a patient to treat themselves, every patient is deserving of that education and every clinician is obliged to provide it”

Robin McKenzie

Incensed by sufferers’ expensive dependency on clinicians and the over-use of manipulation, injections, surgery, and pharmaceuticals, even then (a far greater problem today), McKenzie sought to educate his patients in the process of self-treatment, the existence, and recognition of common ergonomic stressors and the importance of postural maintenance.

He was passionate about the need to empower the patient by providing them with the necessary education and skills to both understand their problem and to treat it themselves.

By the 1970’s, Robin had developed his theories quite robustly and became known in the United States, where his ideas were adopted with great enthusiasm. He was hired by the Kaiser group of hospitals and helped many thousands of American workers to overcome their debilitating back and extremity problems. Honours quickly followed and Robin was invited all over the world to demonstrate his McKenzie Method ® to medical and other health-care professionals.

Following his publication of various medical texts, in 1980 Robin wrote and published the first in a series of self-help books, the “Treat Your Own Series”, which began with Treat Your Own Back and later extended to the Neck, Shoulder, Knee and Hip.

In these patient ‘handbooks’ he sought to distil the essence of his ‘method’, in an easy-to-follow format, so that it would be accessible directly to the sufferer, without recourse to a clinician. Each book contains an easy-to-understand treatment plan to diagnose, alleviate, treat and manage most common musculoskeletal disorders of the spine and extremities. Essentially, the reader, after the exclusion of ‘red flags’, is guided through a detailed assessment of their pain and then provided with a series of simple ‘directional preference’ exercises to correct and restore their mobility and assist in the prevention of recurrence.

“His theories were so advanced that it has taken years for the research community to catch up to his thinking”

Ron Bybee, DPT, OCS, Dip MDT

Whilst in the process of developing his ‘method’, McKenzie also came to realise that correct spinal supports were “vital for my patients, if they were to remain pain free”. Originally “made by my wife, Joy, on our kitchen table”, McKenzie went on to design and develop an extremely specialised range of portable spinal supports, which catered to different needs. Of detailed and specific design, “The Original McKenzie®” range of lumbar supports, which complement the exercises in the books, are proven to assist in postural management and alleviate pain. They are the only lumbar supports approved for use with the McKenzie Method® and remain extremely popular. Indeed, one of the greatest athletes of our generation, Le Bron James, has repeatedly been seen relying on a McKenzie lumbar roll to assist with postural maintenance.

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LOVE IT! ” I Love my lumbar roll! This helps my back pain a lot. I sit at a desk all day for work and my back, neck and shoulders all feel so much better now that I use this.”


Since initial publication, the books have been translated into some 18 languages and are consistently global bestsellers, the first two in the series having sold over 7 million copies worldwide. A cursory glance at the reviews for “Treat Your Own Back” on Amazon provide a lay testament to its popularity and efficacy. For the 20% who fail to derive benefit from the treatments set out in the books, McKenzie recommends that they visit a certified McKenzie-trained clinician so that a more detailed mechanical assessment can be made, before embarking upon or recommending any other more invasive and costly forms of therapy.

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“Treat Your Own” books change lives. These charmingly written but informative books have helped millions of people worldwide treat, relieve and prevent their pain and international scientific studies have proven that the information and exercises described in the “Treat Your Owns” get positive and lasting results.

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Robin’s ultimate vision was that the benefits of the McKenzie Method® should be brought to the masses. In 1983, in order to meet the demands of his work, it became apparent to him that further education of health care professionals was required and thus McKenzie founded the McKenzie Institute® International, to ensure the orderly development of education and research into the methods he had devised. A not for profit organisation, the McKenzie Institute International® has since grown into an august and prestigious post-graduate educational body, with 28 branches worldwide and which also presents its stringent educational programme in a further 12 countries.

The Institute has, as its objective, the worldwide promotion of the assessment, treatment, education, and empowerment of patients with musculoskeletal disorders, in accordance with its founders’ ethos. The educational programme comprises post-graduate courses and examinations, designed and managed by the Faculty of the Institute, by which participating physicians/physiotherapists/surgeons/other health-care professionals, may become Credentialed or Diplomaed in the specialised field of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy® or MDT®. Only then are such professionals able to promote themselves as qualified practitioners of the McKenzie Method®. The courses are constantly updated to reflect recent advances and research and McKenzie accredited clinicians are obliged to maintain MDT Certification Continuing Education standards. By these exacting standards, the Institute guards the purity of the McKenzie brand.

“I’d like to see people treating their own back pain in the same way they approach dental care or washing their hands. It should be just automatic.”

Robin McKenzie

Despite his desperate early struggles to convince the medical fraternity of his findings, Robin McKenzie’s ground-breaking work has since received accolades from scientific and medical communities around the world:

“Robin McKenzie’s story is a heroic journey over a professional and personal lifetime…

It is important because not only does it identify a testable concept of care, but it draws attention to the many and diverse barriers in modern medicine to effective non-operative musculoskeletal care ……..The barriers McKenzie [has] faced in promoting what is a simple and effective treatment option are irrational and extraordinary.……………[one] is left puzzling why the journey that has resulted in relief and cure for so many has been so difficult, yet marveling at the intrepid character of the man who has travelled that hard road”. Vert Mooney, Clinical Professor Orthopaedics Surgery, Uni of Ca, San Diego – forward to Robin’s autobiography: “Ägainst the Tide”.

In addition, McKenzie’s outstanding contribution to patient-centric treatment of musculoskeletal disorders by development of the McKenzie Method® was also recognised by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in the award of an OBE (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) in 1990, followed by a CNZM (Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit) in 2000, essentially reflecting McKenzie’s selfless determination to put the patient first and thereby to empower self-care.