Q. Is there a magic bullet for back pain? I could use one.
There is no magic bullet for everyone. However, like millions of people who suffer back pain, I rely on the methods developed by Robin McKenzie, a physiotherapist in New Zealand. Because back problems are almost universal, I'm going to do two columns on McKenzie.
When I was 30 years old, I strained my lower back carrying bundles of newspapers. With a week of bed rest, I got better. A few years later, I reached for a backhand on the tennis court and ended up in bed again.
Subsequently, a series of injuries gave me stiffness and localized pain. Then the sciatica kicked in; a toothache-like pain started running down my left buttock to my ankle. This was a sign that my injuries had earned me a bulging lumbar disc.
I went to a chiropractor and his treatments seemed to work, but I suspect that resting had more to do with my recovery than the treatments.
After additional sieges of pain, I went to a physiatrist and several physical therapists. Again, after many sessions, I got better but wasn't sure why. Then, a therapist loaned me a copy of a book: "Treat Your Own Back" by Robin McKenzie. Since then, I have not been to any type of health care professional for help.
The best way to explain McKenzie's system is to let you hear it in his own words. Below is an eye-opening excerpt from his book:
"In about 1956, in my clinic in Wellington, New Zealand, I observed by chance a remarkable event which has changed worldwide the nature of treatment administered for the alleviation of back pain. This serendipitous event led to the development of the theories and practise that have now become the hallmark of the McKenzie methods for the diagnosis and treatment of common painful back problems.
"The chance observation arose from a sudden change in the condition of a patient whom we will call Mr. Smith. Mr. Smith had pain to the right of his low back, extending into the buttock and thigh as far as his knee. He had undergone the conventional treatment considered suitable for back pain in that era. After three weeks of heat and ultrasound his condition had not improved. He had difficulty standing upright, he could bend forward, but could not bend backward.
"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 arched and overstretched for some five minutes.
"When I returned in order to commence his treatment, I was extremely concerned to find him lying in what, at the 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, he found he could now bend backward without having severe pain.
"When Mr. Smith arose from the treatment table, he could stand upright and he remained improved with no recurrence of leg pain. I placed him in the same position the following day, and this resulted in complete resolution of the remaining symptoms.
"The important point to remember about all this is that as Mr. Smith lay in this position, his pain changed location and moved from the leg and right side of his back to the centre point just at the waistline. The movement of pain from the leg or buttocks to the middle of the back is now known worldwide as the "centralisation phenomenon."
"We now know that when pain moves, as it did in the case of Mr. Smith, our chances of helping you with the methods described in this book are very good indeed."
Thanks to the chance observation with Mr. Smith, the McKenzie system is now provided worldwide by thousands of physiotherapists, doctors and chiropractors treating patients with back pain.
For more information, go to: http://www.mckenziemdt.org/ 
(Next week, we'll discuss the McKenzie techniques.)
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