Robin McKenzie Dies

Physiotherapist who saved multitudes from back and neck pain dies in Kapiti

By Alan Tristram

One of the world’s top authorities on back and neck pain, New Zealand physiotherapist Robin McKenzie has died at his home in Raumati on the Kapiti Coast.

McKenzie (82), who rose from humble circumstances in Masterton to achieve international fame, wrote two  best-selling books: ‘Treat Your Own Back’ and ‘Treat Your Own Neck,’ as well as a textbook ‘The Lumbar Spine.

He taught and lectured around the world; and he also set up the McKenzie Institute International to further the revolutionary treatment methods he initiated.

One of the great paradoxes of his life was that for many years  he was comparatively unknown to back-pain sufferers in his own country, while overseas hospitals and research institutes queued up to invite him to lecture and teach his methods. The Asheville Pain Management techniques is something one can opt for in case they are experiencing a lot of join or any other pain.

Practiced in Wellington

After graduating from the School of Physiotherapy at Otago University, Robin McKenzie practiced for many years at Kelvin Chambers in  Wellington. During this time he treated many MP’s and the then PM, Keith Holyoake, as well as many members of the National Orchestra who suffered from occupational overuse syndrome.

And it was there in the early 1960’s that he experienced his ‘Eureka’ moment after leaving a patient for some time in an extension posture, something like the yoga cobra pose.

Contrary to received  medical wisdom, the patient reported that this posture had lessened his pain — and so McKenzie set off on a medical odyssey that took him around the world to study spinal treatments.

Then  he evolved the revolutionary McKenzie method — cheap and effective — which educated the patient to cure his, or her, own back and neck pain. It was essentially a ‘hands off’ approach for the therapist, another revolutionary aspect to his method.

But at first, New Zealand practitioners were slow to recognise the efficacy of his methods.

So in the 1970’s McKenzie went to the United States, where his ideas were adopted with great enthusiasm. He revealed later that from this new beginning in America, he never looked back.

He was hired by the Kaiser group of hospitals and helped many thousands of American workers to overcome their debilitating back problems.

Honours quickly followed, and McKenzie was invited to the UK, to many European countries and to Japan and China.

Overseas training courses

The work became so arduous he set up training courses to educate other physiotherapists and also established the McKenzie Institute to carry out further research. He invented the unique McKenzie Lumbar Roll and McKenzie Neck Roll to help patients prevent a recurrence of pain.

But although invited to set up base in the United States, he always remained true to his home country. He lived at Silverstream in the Hutt Valley, and then for many years at a farmlet in North Waikanae before moving to a purpose built ‘Round House,’ on the seafront at Raumati.

In the 1990’s he was awarded an OBE and later became a Companion of NZ Order of Merit. He received many overseas honours.

He is survived by his wife Joy, daughter Jan and sons David , Alley and Andrew.

His funeral will be held at Old St Paul’s in Wellington on Monday, May 20, at 11am.

The basis of the McKenzie approach

With the McKenzie approach, physical therapy and exercise used to extend the spine can help ‘centralize’ the patient’s pain by moving it away from the extremities (leg or arm) to the back. Back pain is usually better tolerated than leg pain or arm pain, and the theory of the approach is that centralizing the pain allows the source of the pain to be treated rather than the symptoms.

A central tenet of the McKenzie Method is that self-healing and self-treatment are important for the patient’s pain relief and rehabilitation. No passive methods — such as heat, cold, ultrasound, medicine or needles — are used in the treatment.

The long-term goal of the McKenzie Method is to teach patients suffering from neck pain and/or back pain how to treat themselves and manage their own pain for life, using exercise and other strategies. Other goals include:

  • Reduce pain quickly
  • Return to normal functioning in daily activities
  • Minimize the risk of recurring pain (avoid painful postures and movements)
  • Minimize the number of return visits to the spine specialist

And these methods have proved remarkably effective for patients around the world.

I want to know if there are any pain management workshops, discussion groups or courses in Kapiti Coast area or near that we can attend so that I can learn tehniques to help manage my wifes Sciatica pain and enabler her to help herself. We live in Paraparaumu Beach area.

Robin McKenzie’s funeral will take place at Old St Paul’s in Wellington at 11am on Monday.

I had a long chat with Mr McKenzie at his home about two months ago. During this wide ranging conversation about the state of world and Kapiti he told me that he used to, sometimes, sit and watch the world pass by at Coastlands. He said his heart was always saddened by the number of poor people who used to drift through the Mall. At another time, while in a supermarket, he had watched a young family struggling to pay their grocery bill at the counter. At the car park he followed them and gave them all the money he had in his pocket ($250). These are only two stories of many ….he was a good man with a heart for the little people in our community. We have lost a truly great soul and I grief…

Thank you, Alan for this history of Robin’s work.
The McKenzie method works…we have both books at home and have used his treatment methods.
Years ago when Bill did some translating Robin asked him to translate his books into the Dutch language, which Bill was honoured to do. Robin will be missed in Kapiti for his ‘eye’ on Council and his sometimes acerbic comments in the Independent Newsletter; as well as by his Professional colleagues and people who have benefited from his treatment.

Rest in Peace, Robin.

Thank you for that very nice tribute, Betty. A person who has the genuine gift of healing is a blessing to humankind.