Robin McKenzie

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Robin Anthony McKenzie Robin McKenzie

Robin Anthony McKenzie changed the way patients worldwide treat back and extremity issues. The McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnostics and Therapy, developed by Robin in the 1950s, has become a standard in the field.

Robin devoted his professional life to the study of musculoskeletal disorders and their treatment. His theories are now supported with scientific evidence.

Born in 1931, the native of New Zealand devoted his private life to his family.

Robin founded The McKenzie Institute in 1982 and grew it into a multinational entity with 28 branches. He has received numerous prestigious honours and awards.

Even in retirement from active practice, he continued his work addressing spinal issues.

For more than 40 years, Robin McKenzie refined and perfected the procedures that have made the McKenzie self-treatment system unique. Reflecting on the events of the last 40 years, Robin summarised his views as follows:

"The disabling and recurrent disorders that affect the spine can produce disability and mental anguish in all who experience the problem. It is estimated that over 80% of the world's population will at some stage of their lives develop at least one episode of severe back pain necessitating bed rest. Such a widespread problem causes significant losses not only to industry because of the forced absence from work, but to the individuals affected who suffer loss of income and self esteem should the disorder become prolonged. It occurred to me many years ago that the only possible chance we have of influencing the course of the disorder is to teach each and every patient as much as is possible about his own particular disorder.

If you adopt certain positions or perform certain movements that cause your back to 'go out', then if we understand the problem fully, we can identify other movements and other positions that, if practised and adopted, can reverse that process. You put it out, you put it back in.

Once taught, the educated patient can accept responsibility for his own disorder and hopefully can reduce his dependency on therapists and therapy.

We must realise that after injury, the body will repair itself. Physicians and therapists do not have 'magic fingers', we do not accelerate healing, but we can create the best climate for successful repair and, following repair, we can assist greatly in the recovery of function. Undisturbed healing must be followed by the recovery of function and fitness. These principles are basic and surely offer the most likely solution to the problems caused by the recurring low back disorder."

During his lifetime, his contributions to the understanding and treatment of spinal problems have met with worldwide recognition. The validity of the theories he has proposed are now supported with scientific evidence and the effectiveness of his treatments have been scientifically validated.

  • In 1982, Robin was made an Honorary Life Member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), "in recognition of distinguished and meritorious service to the art and science of physical therapy and to the welfare of mankind."
  • In 1983, he was elected to membership of the International Society for the Study of the Lumbar Spine.
  • In 1984, he was made a Fellow of the American Back Society.
  • In 1985, he was awarded an Honorary Fellowship of the New Zealand Society of Physiotherapists.
  • In 1987, he was made an Honorary Life Member of the New Zealand Manipulative Therapists Association.
  • In 1990, he was made an Honorary Fellow of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists in the United Kingdom, and in the 1990 Queen's Birthday Honours was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.
  • In 1993, he was made an Honorary Doctorate of the Academy of Medical Sciences of Russia.
  • In 1998, he was made an Honorary Life Member of the New Zealand College of Physiotherapy, and in the 2000 New Year's Honours was made a Companion of New Zealand Order of Merit.
  • In 2004, a random sampling of physical therapists in the Orthopaedic Section of the APTA named him the number one most influential and distinguished physical therapist in the field of orthopaedic physical therapy.

Robin McKenzie published in the New Zealand Medical Journal and was a contributor to many Journals and publications on the subject of spinal disorders. He was the author of six books: "Treat Your Own Back", "Treat Your Own Neck", "Treat Your Own Shoulder", "The Lumbar Spine, Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy", "The Cervical and Thoracic Spine, Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy", and "The Human Extremities, Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy."

After retiring from active practice, Robin McKenzie acted as an international consultant to organisations involved in research and treatment of mechanical spinal disorders.

In his clinic in Wellington, the Capital City of New Zealand, Robin McKenzie in 1956 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.

"My first experience with what I have chosen to call the 'Centralisation Phenomenon' occurred in 1956. A patient, 'Mr Smith', who had pain to the right of the low back, extending into the buttock and thigh to the knee, had undergone treatment for three weeks without improvement. He could bend forwards, but could not bend backwards. I told him to undress and lie face down on the treatment table, the end of which had been raised for a previous patient. Without adjusting the table, and unnoticed by any of the clinical staff, he lay face down with his back overstretched for some five minutes. After some time, when I entered the room I was aghast to find him lying in what at that time was considered to be a most damaging position. On enquiring as to his welfare, I was astounded to hear him say that this was the best he had been in three weeks. All pain had disappeared from his leg. Furthermore, the pain in the back had moved from the right side to the centre. In addition, his restricted range of extension had markedly improved. After standing upright, the patient remained improved with no recurrence of leg pain. The position was adopted again the following day and resulted in complete resolution of central low back pain. The movement of pain from the leg or buttocks to the middle of the back is now known as the centralisation phenomenon."

For such a sequence of events to occur, the proposed causative mechanism for common back problems existing at that time had to be challenged. James Cyriax, an orthopaedic physician practising in London, had proposed that the intervertebral disc complex was responsible for most back disorders. Cyriax's description of the mechanism for the production of back pain was not popular and not well accepted within medicine, but Cyriax's proposals seemed to Robin McKenzie to logically account for the change in the condition of 'Mr. Smith'.



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