How Does the McKenzie Method Treat Back and Neck Problems?

You may have heard that the McKenzie Method is sometimes used by practitioners as a way of treating neck and back problems. The practitioners who use it know that it’s more than just a set of exercises for back pain. It’s also a specific approach to treatment spinal problems.

Simply stated, the McKenzie Method includes:

  • Initial assessment procedures for back pain
  • Treatment for back problems, including special procedures and self-help where indicated
  • Prevention strategies for back problems

In this article, we’ll explain what the McKenzie Method is and how it’s used to relieve pain associated with neck and back problems.

What is the McKenzie Method?

The McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy, or MDT, was created by a physiotherapist from New Zealand named Robin McKenzie.

There are four key steps to the McKenzie Method. Here’s a breakdown of how they work:

  1. The assessment involves the practitioner taking a thorough history of the patient’s pain and symptoms. The patient may be asked to perform movement and assume positions to aid in the diagnosis. It’s a diagnostic method that usually doesn’t require an X-ray or MRI because it’s based on movement and an in-depth conversation with the patient.
  2. The classification involves assigning the patient to one of three classifications based on their symptoms and responses during the initial assessment. The classifications include: Postural syndromes – back or neck pain caused by the continued stress of the patient’s soft tissues while maintaining certain positions or postures. Derangement syndromes – back pain that’s caused by a change in position of the vertebrae due to re-positioning of the fluid nucleus of a disc. Dysfunction syndromes – intermittent back pain caused by scar tissue in a shortened state. The pain occurs when the tissues are stressed.
  3. The treatment phase involves the practitioner recommending specific exercises to do and postures to assume or avoid. While it’s rare, some severe mechanical problems may also require hands-on treatment from the practitioner.
  4. The prevention phase occurs after the pain has been alleviated. The practitioner provides the patient with advice to prevent the recurrence of pain as well as future injuries.

It’s typical for the recommended exercises to gradually centralize and then reduce the pain caused by the back or neck injury. The McKenzie Method is seen as a non-invasive and minimalistic method for treating back pain.

Who Can Benefit from the McKenzie Method?

The McKenzie Method can help many people who experience chronic or acute back or neck pain. The McKenzie Institute provides a list of self-assessment questions to help you determine whether you should talk to a provider about the McKenzie Method.

  • Have you had more than one episode of neck or lower back pain in the past two years?
  • Does your pain increase immediately after a prolonged period of bending or stooping?
  • Do you feel worse when you sit for long periods or when you stand from a sitting position?
  • Do you associate your pain with one activity and generally feel good when you’re not participating in that activity?
  • Is your pain reduced when you’re lying face down? (There may be a brief period when the pain worsens, but if it then dissipates, you should answer yes.)
  • Are there periods in the day when you have no pain at all?
  • Is the pain occurring mostly above your knees or above your elbows?
  • Do you feel better when you’re on the move than you do when you’re inactive?
  • Does your lower back pain feel better when you’re walking?

In general, if you answered yes to four or more of these questions, the chances are high that you will benefit from the McKenzie Method.

About the McKenzie Institute

The McKenzie Institute was founded by physical therapists in New Zealand in 1982. The organization still has its international headquarters in New Zealand, but it now has branches in 26 countries around the globe.

Each branch provides services and training to practitioners who want to learn the McKenzie Method. The organization offers both a certification program and a diploma program. If you want to try the McKenzie Method, the McKenzie Institute recommends that you seek out a practitioner who’s received training from them and has a certification or diploma.

You can find a McKenzie Method provider in your area by visiting the McKenzie Institute’s list of providers, which you can find here. Remember, if your pain meets the criteria we listed above, you may be a good candidate for the non-invasive McKenzie Method.

Does Health Insurance Cover Chiropractic Care?

Do you have health insurance? If you do and you need chiropractic treatments, the chances are good that your insurance will cover at least some of the chiropractic care you need.

Approximately 20 million Americans visit chiropractors ever year for help with a variety of issues. That according to the NCCIH, which also estimates that those people spend about $4 billion dollars a year for the care they receive.

That might seem like a lot of money, but it would be higher if many insurance policies didn’t cover chiropractic care.

Many insurance carriers will cover chiropractic visits when they are to help a patient with the treatment of a short-term condition or injury. However, they typically do not pay for long-term or maintenance care.

In this article, we’ll explain how insurance plans typically cover chiropractic treatments, why they don’t usually cover maintenance chiropractic care, other limitations that may apply, and what your options are if your health insurer won’t pay for chiropractic treatments.

How Insurers Cover Chiropractic Care

Most children and adults who have insurance coverage have a policy through their employer or a marketplace plan they acquired through the Affordable Care Act. Let’s talk about each of those options and how they may impact your coverage.

Workplace insurance plans often cover some chiropractic treatments under specific circumstances. It’s difficult to generalize since there are so many different plans in place. However, it’s typical for employer plans to cover chiropractic visits if they are:

  • Medically necessary to treat an injury or condition
  • Prescribed by a doctor (If an HMO plan)

It’s common for there to be other limitations, and we’ll talk about those in the next section.

If your insurance is a marketplace or off-market policy you bought through the Affordable Care Act, your plan may also cover chiropractic care, even though the ACA does not require plans to provide chiropractic coverage.

The ACA does require plans to cover 10 essential health benefits, and one of them is rehabilitative and habilitative services. In some plans, that includes treatment by a chiropractor. Some states require coverage of chiropractic care, while others include it in their so-called “benchmark” plan, which means it must be included.

What Are Some Common Limitations on Chiropractic Care?

While many insurance plans provide coverage for chiropractic care, they also impose some limitations on the kind of care and the amount of care an individual may receive. Here are some of the most common limitations:

  • You must have a referral from your doctor for the care to be eligible (If an HMO plan)
  • Your doctor and/or chiropractor must create and follow a detailed care plan
  • You may be required to use in-network or approved chiropractors (if no out of network benefits)
  • There may be a cap on how many times you can use a chiropractor per month or per policy year

It’s important to remember that insurance companies are focused on medical necessity. If your doctor recommends chiropractic care – and if they can make a compelling case that it’s an alternative to something more expensive – your insurance company is likely to cover it.

Why Don’t Insurance Carriers Cover Maintenance Chiropractic Care?

One of the most common questions people ask about insurance and chiropractic care is why their policy doesn’t cover routine care.

The primary reason is that insurance companies want to see steady improvement when they are paying for treatments. Visiting a chiropractor can help you avoid future problems, but the insurance model is geared toward fixing health issues, not preventing them.

Does that mean you should assume your policy won’t cover chiropractic? Absolutely not. If you’re not sure what’s covered, check your policy and then call to make sure you understand how much is covered and what’s not covered.

What Can I Do if My Plan Doesn’t Cover Chiropractic Care?

What happens if you check your policy and learn that your plan doesn’t cover chiropractic care at all?

That’s a question that some patients must deal with. Chiropractic visits can cost between $30 and $200 depending on the chiropractor’s location and the treatment needed.

Here are a few options to consider:

  • Talk to your doctor to see if they can smooth things over with your insurance carrier
  • Talk to the insurance company yourself to argue your case
  • If you can afford it, buy a supplemental insurance policy that covers chiropractic care
  • Talk to your chiropractor about a price reduction or payment plan

Chiropractors want to help their patients, and many are willing to work with patients whose insurance doesn’t cover the treatments they need.

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