McKenzie Method for Spinal Stenosis

Will It Relieve Pain from Spinal Stenosis?

Doctor with PatientThe McKenzie Method is a system of evaluating and treating spinal disorders, including spinal stenosis. A certified McKenzie Method clinician (generally a physical therapist, but physicians and chiropractors also use this method) will go through a mechanical assessment to help diagnose your condition. 

Interestingly, the McKenzie Method does not actively treat spinal stenosis. It is a non-responding condition to mechanical therapy, so the typical techniques used in the McKenzie Method will not help the pain from spinal stenosis (McKenzie, RA, May, S. The Lumbar Spine: Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy, 2nd ed. New Zealand: Spinal Publications; 2003: 239).

It's still important, though, to go through the mechanical assessment process because some elements of your spinal stenosis may be reversible by using mechanical therapies.

However, even if your condition isn't reversible, the McKenzie clinician can still help you with spinal stenosis. Most important in the McKenzie Method is patient education and active patient involvement. For spinal stenosis, a clinician will help you learn how to avoid sustained extension positions. That's when your back is arched, and you should try to avoid that because extension can increase pain if you have spinal stenosis.

The McKenzie clinician will work with you on flexed positions (when your back is more rounded). As you've probably noticed with spinal stenosis, your pain is less when you bend forward. Therefore, it'll be part of your treatment plan to do some “defensive” moves: when your pain starts, you should stop what you're doing, sit down, or even bend forward to deal with the immediate pain.

In the McKenzie Method, you'll also learn how to walk in a slightly flexed position so that your pain doesn't prevent you from walking longer distances—a common problem with spinal stenosis. The clinician will teach you a pelvic tilt, which helps you find a neutral spine position. He or she will work with you to figure out how much tilt you need in order to walk with less pain.

Self-treatment is a big part of the McKenzie Method. If you know how to manage your symptoms on your own, you lower the risk for recurrence. Plus, you are actively involved in your treatment. By using the knowledge and tools the clinician gives you, you can control your pain safely and effectively (and most likely with fewer appointments).

Updated on: 09/15/15
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