Athletic Performance & The McKenzie Method

“Sport is a series of repeated movements and/or sustained loads” MDT conference, Miami 2016.

When the best athletes from around the world gather together to compete at the highest level of competition, people pay attention. The Olympics always seem to draw huge numbers of viewers that enjoy watching the best of the best compete. Inevitably, these viewers pay attention to the detail that is displayed on their HD screens. In London, it was the colorful, mesmerizing designs on shoulders and knees that raised awareness about Kinesiotape. In Rio, it was the circular bruises on the bodies of swimmers that have people wondering what “cupping” is. These modalities to musculoskeletal care seem to allow athletes to continue competing for the time being. What people don’t notice because of these distractions, are the repeated motions and sustained positions that these athletes do with their bodies.

The McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT) is a system of musculoskeletal care that uses repeated motions and sustained positions to allow patients to control their own symptoms. It is an ongoing diagnostic process that, when performed by a trained MDT clinician, leads to outstanding results and patient empowerment. It looks at how an individual is moving, and what kind of symptoms are occurring as a result of that movement. A patient-specific repeated motion or sustained load is selected by the clinician and performed by the patient, with a careful monitoring of the change in symptoms. This process occurs until the patient and therapist have found a direction and force of movement that abolishes the patient’s symptoms, and prevents the symptoms from reoccurring by compliance with the patient’s own movement.

Here are some examples of repeated movements that are seen in the Olympics. Think about how many times a swimmer brings his/her arm through extremes of motion in one event. How long does a cyclist spend hunched over the front of their bike? Over the course of a 150 mile bike race, cyclists perform 37,000 revolutions. That’s a lot of the same motion, over and over again. Think about gymnasts, who have more range of motion than most people could dream of, and take advantage of the full available range. Rowers perform the same motion over and over again, with their wrists, elbows, shoulders, and back. Think about how many times the aforementioned motions are performed all year round, day in and day out, preparing for the Olympics.

One member of the United States skeletal team, Alex Ivanov, explains the positions required to compete in Olympic skeleton. “You have to arch your back as much as possible, which isn’t the greatest for being healthy, but it’s really good for going fast.” Alex has experienced a number of injuries from training and competing in this sport, many of which have occurred in the spine. Utilizing MDT, his physical therapist was able to diagnose his back pain, and provide a program that involves extending the spine. This is the opposite motion that Alex spends most of his time in during his sport.

“Having an extension protocol keeps everything moving the way it should and balances the movements I do in training. It’s kept me way healthier for the last couple of seasons”
Alex continues to use these simple McKenzie exercises to prevent the pain from coming back. He has integrated extension exercises in his warm-up and cool down in order to prevent the previously problematic positions from becoming an issue. His teammates have benefitted as well.
“Lower back and thoracic spine problems are pretty rampant in our sport. Having this in our warmup, they’ve all noticed some pretty big differences. It’s simple, it helps out, and it fits in with our routine really well.”

It is at the end range of available motion where most patients experience the most change in their symptoms. By visiting that end range of motion repeatedly, in a direction chosen by the clinician, a reduction in symptoms are often experienced. This reduction can occur after as little as 3-5 therapy sessions.

The bottom line is, athletes should be utilizing the McKenzie method to treat their own pain, because they repeatedly go through these same motions in their sport on a regular basis. Injuries in any sport are inevitable. Olympic athletes are prone to injury because of the nature of their job. When you look at the way the body moves, and treat these athletes according to their preferred movement patterns, amazing results should be expected. After all, when the Olympics are over, will athletes continue to have their skin sucked out by a cup? Will they continue to go to a facility every day to have their shoulders taped? No. But they will continue to move. MDT should be utilized for these athletes, and all athletes with pain, because after all, everyone has to move. It is important to know how to move in the right direction.

Here at Fyzical Therapy and Balance Centers of Southington/Bristol, we are the MDT experts as a certified McKenzie clinic. For questions or concerns please contact us in Bristol at 860-585-5800 or Southington at 203-272-8490. We also specialize in orthopedic and sports therapy, vestibular rehabilitation, balance /falls and health and wellness including BODYQ, a full body fitness assessment and FOOTMAX, customized orthotics designed to address foot pain.

This article was written by Brian Greer, DPT.

Brian Greer | Fyzical CT
Brian Greer – DPT Southington

Brian graduated from the Doctor of Physical Therapy program at Springfield College in 2016. He is currently a staff physical therapist in our Southington location.