A person holds their back with both hands. They appear uncomfortable.
A certified therapist is often a patient’s best resource to help identify the elusive causes and treatments for back pain. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Back pain is so common among Americans, it’s said to be normal.

Many patients have no idea what causes it. Studies have suggested that upwards of 60 percent of people develop this pain for no apparent reason.

The problem is there is a reason—we just have to find it.

Simple daily tasks can often contribute to the problem. The accumulated effect of certain motions and actions lead to progressive problems that, eventually, lead to back pain.

It’s crucial to identify these causes.

What we often fail to understand is that our bodies will give us clues. We just fail to recognize them.

For example: Sometimes a person with back pain will sit with a small pillow behind them, or they’ll place an arm behind their back because it helps ease the discomfort. Something simple such as a lumbar roll can also help a person shift position, providing clues as to the preferred spinal position.

In therapy we help patients identify positions of relief and positions of pain. This enables the patient to perform exercises that safely counteract pain-inducing motions.

McKenzie method

At Spectrum Health, many of the therapists have obtained specialty and post-graduate certifications. This allows for a wide variety of specialty therapy services in areas such as women’s health, manual therapy, neurology, hand therapy and orthopedics, to name a few.

The McKenzie method certification is a prime example of one of these certifications, and it’s especially applicable to the topic at hand.

Spectrum Health therapists who obtain this certification are recognized for their abilities to effectively offer mechanical diagnosis therapy.

What does this mean?

Well, the McKenzie method is based on the cause-and-effect element of pain.

A therapist in this area has been trained to evaluate the patient’s pain in a well-defined assessment. While most commonly used in diagnosing spinal problems, this assessment can also be used to evaluate and treat joint pain of the extremities.

In matters of the spine, there are two basic directions we account for when when assessing patients: flexion and extension.

Most patients will respond to one direction or the other.

The flexion positions are when we bend forward, bringing our knees to our chest, or sitting.

The motion opposite of this is the extension position, which involves motions in which the spine is more upright. When we walk or bend backward a bit, this is an extension position.

It typically requires a skilled assessment to identify the direction that addresses a patient’s pain.

A McKenzie therapist can help spot and manage the pain quickly, a process known as identifying a direction of preference.

Intricacies of treatment

Once we establish the patient’s preferred direction, we can empower patients to take charge of their pain. They can often manage the symptoms quickly, while identifying and avoiding potential causes of the pain.

Some patients in McKenzie therapy might initially assume they’ll only do extension exercises.

This is a misconception. While these exercises affect the majority of patients positively, McKenzie therapists are trained to listen to the patient’s pain and conduct a thorough assessment to classify the patient into a mechanical syndrome.

Extension may not always be the answer.

I’ve found that patients who lack a response to the treatment may need some fine-tuning in the approach. Once the intricacies of the treatment are identified, patients move forward and improve.

One of the biggest risk factors for developing back pain is prior instances of back pain. Research continues to show that once you’ve had back pain, you will likely get it again.

This is why it’s so crucial to manage symptoms quickly. If you learn how to manage it the first time, all the better.

The McKenzie method can save time and money and help a patient for a lifetime.