The Sarah Key Method

The what method?! You use your feet?!

Yep, those two questions are the most common reactions I get when I tell someone I am going to use the Sarah Key Method to help with their back pain…and no, I don’t jump on your back!

Sarah Key is an Australian Physiotherapist who specializes in treating back pain. Back in the UK I worked in a specialist clinic where we all used this treatment daily and then went on to complete my training with Sarah in Salford University. I have continued to use this method since I moved to New Zealand, using it on some patients and even my colleagues here in the clinic!

The Sarah Key method is a relatively new way of treating backs and is based on the ‘linkage’ problem of a stiff spinal segment. By treating not only the painful segment of our spine but the stiff segment it is suggested we can prevent pain getting worse and limit future episodes of pain. We all know that movement is key throughout our body, including our back. It should be able to bend and move freely to embrace natural movement and reduce that stiffness which we all can experience. We can do this daily by just reaching our toes two to three times per day! It is thought that stiff parts of your spine are responsible for both the generalised, non-specific back pain and the grumbling back ache which you don’t have a reason for. This accounts for over 85% of cases of pain.

The Sarah Key Method requires the heel of my foot to mobilise the stiff spinal segments. Pressure with our hands and thumbs is along the same theory but when I use my heel I can create a greater force over a wider surface area resulting in less tenderness for you, soft tissue mobilisation as well as specific spinal mobilisation. We use a yoga mat on the floor, the patient lies on this supported by comfortable pillows while I stand with support or sit on the bed to provide just the right amount of pressure – don’t panic, this is easily adjusted by me controlling my foot to just how much pressure is right, we get the ‘sweet’ pain!

Following treatment in the clinic, I give you a specific set of exercises, based around the BackBlock which you can see in the picture below. The back block routine helps us stretch and strengthen the lumbar spine and core, giving you back the mobility that your spine desires – pro disc health! These are super quick and easy to perform, in fact I use this every week to maintain my own back health.

As some of you may know, I have had a couple of surgeries on my right shoulder. At the time of my second surgery and being a new physio graduate, I was told to change my career, that the forces I would need to maintain over the next 30+ years would be detrimental to my shoulder joint. Thankfully, finding the Sarah Key method and using my foot to treat problem backs allowed me to rehab my shoulder without putting too much load on the joint, bringing it to a high functional level which I can now use 100% in my practice.

I’m sure you are still wondering how this can help. Meet Darren. He came to the clinic following a horrible misadventure back injury which needed emergency surgery. As soon as I met him, I knew it would be a project, a very challenging one at that! Initially he was bed-ridden and could barely walk in to the clinic he was in so much pain 4 weeks after his surgery. We started using some gentle mobilisation techniques but soon we got in to the nitty gritty and the foot went in!! He showed massive progression through his treatments and although it took a couple of weeks to start seeing some improvements, after 2-3 sessions per week he could walk 1km, then 2, then 3 and just kept going! His function improved so much that when Darren walked into his 3 month specialist review the consultant could barely believe he was walking unassisted, never mind mowing the lawns the day before!

I think every Physio has something ‘alternative’ they like to use, something that sets us apart from the next and this is my little trick in the tool box. Finding new and evidence based methods of treatment are awesome, even when they need regular pedicures!! I do choose the patients that I think are the most appropriate for this method so don’t worry; you don’t have to try this if you are booked in with me!!!

If, however, you do want to know more about the Sarah Key Method I will happily take the time to explain it in more detail, but warning, once you get me started I could talk for hours about it! If it sounds like something you would like to try, if your back hasn’t responded to other treatments in the past, give us a call and let us know that you want to try and I’m sure we can help get you better, faster.

Lindsay Workman