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Sad time for the Physiotherapy profession with the loss of a great clinician, innovator and New Zealander


Robin Anthony McKenzie
CNZM, OBE, FCSP (Hon), FNZSP (Hon), NZCP (HLM), Dip. MT, Dip. MDT

1931 – 2013

“My Patients taught me all I know”

Robin McKenzie, world renowned physiotherapist, died peacefully on 13 May 2013 after a courageous battle with cancer. He was at his home in Raumati, New Zealand, surrounded by his family. He is survived by his wife and soul mate, Joy, four children and six grandchildren.

Robin was born in Auckland in 1931. He was educated at Wairarapa College, spent his student years at Otago University, and graduated from the New Zealand School of Physiotherapy in Dunedin in 1952. In 1953, he started a private practice in Wellington, and it was here that he developed a special interest in treating spinal disorders.

A chance clinical observation led Robin McKenzie to begin systematically evaluating the effects that simple movements and positions had on his patients’ back pain. A clear assessment process gradually emerged. This system, now known as the McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT), has achieved worldwide recognition and is now regarded as part of “normal” management for low back pain. His vision was that all patients with musculo-skeletal pain be taught how to manage their own pain. The two books he wrote specifically for patients: Treat Your Own Back and Treat Your Own Neck have sold over 6 million copies and are available in 17 languages. As he pursued this vision, Robin McKenzie had to overcome significant skepticism and, at times, outright hostility. He would no doubt attribute this single mindedness to his Scottish ancestry, of which he was very proud.

Fortunately, Robin McKenzie’s work will continue long after his passing. He created The McKenzie Institute International in 1982 and led its growth into a worldwide educational organization. To date, physiotherapists, doctors, chiropractors and other allied health professionals in 37 different countries have been educated in the McKenzie Method and the expansion of The McKenzie Institute’s Education Programme continues to grow.

Robin McKenzie was an Honorary Life Member of the American Physical Therapy Association “in recognition of distinguished and meritorious service to the art and science of physical therapy and to the welfare of mankind.” He was a member of the International Society for the study of the Lumbar Spine, a Fellow of the American Back Society, an Honorary Fellow of the New Zealand Society of Physiotherapists, an Honorary Life member of the New Zealand Manipulative Therapists Association and an Honorary Fellow of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapists in the United Kingdom. In 1990, he was made an Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, and in 1993, received an Honorary Doctorate from the Russian Academy of Medical Science. In the 2000 New Year’s Honour’s List, Her Majesty the Queen appointed Robin McKenzie as a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Aside from his professional life, Robin McKenzie had three other passions: first and foremost was his family. Robin described his family as the “truly strong spine of his life.” They supported him through the struggles of his early professional career, celebrated the accolades he received for his achievements, and supported him in the difficult times of his illness.

Sailing and gardening were hobbies that he loved. In 1970, he bought a 40-foot sailing ketch and taught himself to sail, becoming so competent that he eventually competed in several long distance regattas. His gardening was also done with characteristic thoroughness. He created gardens of spectacular beauty, one of which consisted entirely of native New Zealand plants.

Robin McKenzie dedicated his life to one of humanities great afflictions; musculo-skeletal pain. By empowering people to overcome their pain and disability, he has improved the lives of millions. This is a truly great legacy to pass on to future generations.

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