(This is a copy of a review I posted to GoodReads.)

After developing arthritis in my neck last Summer and spending a few months doing the exercises I was shown in physical therapy with only slight improvements, I started casting around for other options early this year. Robin McKenzie’s books consistently landed at the top of my searches, so I ordered a copy of “7 Steps to a Pain-Free Life” and dug into it while my father was away for two weeks and I was able to stay out of the car and devote myself to recuperating.

It’s an odd Frankenbook, apparently just his two earlier books, “Treat Your Own Back” and “Treat Your Own Neck”, sown together with a bit of material padded around them. The first parts of the two sections are quite repetitive, so if you’ve read one, you can skim the other. More distractingly, McKenzie must not have been confident in his own writing abilities, because he hired a writing assistant whose only contribution seems to have been failed (but frequent) attempts to make jokes.

If you can read past the format and style, I think the content makes it worth the effort. Luckily, the important sections describing the exercises themselves are clear and concise, with plenty of illustrative photographs. A great deal of what he says makes sense, especially for someone like me who has problems related to hunching forward for too many years and needs to work on extending backwards. After discussing common causes of back and neck pain and methods for counteracting the damage done, he offers seven exercises for the back and seven for the neck, with specific instructions for people with special conditions and advice on how to adapt the exercises as needed and react to problems which may arise in the course of doing them. Some require lying down, but most can be done anywhere, allowing small tune-ups whenever you feel warning signs over the course of the day.

So, the $19.95 question: Did it help?

Anyone who’s seen me recently knows that I haven’t experienced the miracle cure which he certainly doesn’t promise, but does hold out as a possibility in some cases. My problems are too severe and too long in their formation to disappear overnight. That said, I did feel immediate changes after starting his exercises, and slow improvement ever since.

I’ve been doing the exercises every two hours for two months now. Would I be in worse shape if I hadn’t done them? Without cloning myself as a control group, I can’t say for sure, but I do feel confident that they’ve been and continue to be a great help. Sitting for a long time with my neck unsupported still eventually turns to agony, but it’s a far cry from last Summer, when I drove twenty minutes to have dinner with my family and had to turn around and come home before we even ordered our meals. Traveling to Nevada this month was rough, but nothing like the ordeal of going to Oklahoma last Labor Day.

I don’t lay it all at McKenzie’s feet. Physical therapy got me started, and I’ve been going for regular massage therapy appointments and following a well-rounded routine of general exercises, including ten pushups every half hour to re-strengthen my shoulders and upper back. I’ve also greatly reduced the amount of time I spend at the computer each day. While I still don’t feel at all well, I’ve come a long way towards being able to participate in life again, and hope to continue getting back to something like my old self. A morning of running errands no longer leaves me laying on an ice pack for the rest of the day, and the massages which were initially like torture sessions no longer hurt. I can look on the coming months with some cautious optimism, and I think McKenzie has played a large role in it.

As always, talk with your doctor first and exercise mindfully, paying careful attention to what your body is telling you about its current and changing limits, but if you’re seeking relief from pain and better mobility, I’d highly recommend giving McKenzie a serious and extended trial.

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