Singer. Dancer. Teacher. Performance is just part of Elizabeth’s DNA.

“I tutor in the music department at Mercer County Community College, and I perform in the Kelsey Theater, so I am always moving,” says Elizabeth. Always, that is, until two herniated discs in her lower back (lumbar region) slowed her down to a near stop.

Elizabeth is not alone. According to a 2012 survey by the American Physical Therapy Association, lower back pain affects 61 percent of Americans at some point in their lives.

To Cut, or Not to Cut

“Surgery was a real possibility in my case,” Elizabeth recalls. “But because I’m a dancer, and very physically active, I wanted to try physical therapy before turning to surgery.”

Elizabeth chose RWJ Hamilton’s rehabilitation suite at the RWJ Fitness & Wellness Center mainly for convenience, as it is also her gym.

“I felt with the gym and the equipment right there, I could work out something between my therapist and my trainer to make sure all of it worked together,” explains Elizabeth. “I didn’t want to mess around.”

Elizabeth’s therapist, Pamela Randolph, DPT, decided to use the McKenzie method of physical therapy to help Elizabeth.

Maureen Stevens, DPT, certified McKenzie therapist, describes four goals of the McKenzie method:

1. Accurately understand the patient’s presentation and symptoms
2. Determine the most appropriate and effective treatment plan
3. Eliminate symptoms and restore function
4. Empower the patient to self-treat and prevent recurrence

Like most physical therapy approaches, McKenzie relies on movement of the body to heal. The body movements may seem familiar to a casual observer who knows yoga or Pilates, McKenzie is different—and the assessment is the key.

Rather than a series of exercises, the McKenzie method is a process in which the clinician assesses specific effects of loading structures of the body to develop a custom treatment strategy.

“With the McKenzie method,” explains David Alexander, MPT, certified McKenzie therapist, “diagnosis, classification and treatment of a patient’s symptoms are based on a systematic assessment of movements and application of forces.

“This can lead to an immediate change in the patient’s symptoms, creating a safe, accurate and personalized treatment plan. And fewer visits when compared to traditional treatment.”

The McKenzie method is used to treat everything from neck/back pain, to sciatica, numbness of the extremities, degenerative disc disease, and even headaches.

Patient Empowerment
“By incorporating self-treatment, the patient can then continue to use this strategy to effectively treat themselves, remain pain free, and eliminate recurrences if or when they occur,” Dr. Stevens explains.

“With the McKenzie method, you, the patient, have the power to control your pain and stiffness. You have the ability to do your work and daily activities symptom-free without reliance on needles, injection or surgery. That can be very empowering,” adds Alexander.

For Elizabeth, the McKenzie method was ideal both because it was customized to her needs and goals, and because of the self-treatment component.

“After the first weekend—within first three sessions—I was already walking with no pain and my mobile abilities were great. I actually cried. It was a miracle,” says Elizabeth.

To this day, Elizabeth continues to do the exercises. “Back injuries are a challenge because once you have one, it can continue or happen again, and mine was no exception. I went right back to the exercises, and I knew how to fix it… and I did,” she adds.

It’s important to note, says Dr. Stevens, that while McKenzie can be a very effective treatment, there are cases in which a conservative exercise-based approach will be ineffective, such as severe disc rupture and fracture.

“It’s important to know what you’re dealing with. In some cases, a patient may require surgery along with follow up with a physical therapy clinician for return to their prior level of function,” she says.

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