Passive extensions

Passive extensions

Passive extensions are also known as “McKenzie” exercises. They are generally thought of as ‘first aid for a sore back’. Passive extensions or McKenzie exercises are named after Robin McKenzie a NZ physiotherapist who developed the McKenzie Method. This is a system of diagnosis and treatment for spinal and extremity musculoskeletal disorders. If you are in acute low back pain, passive extensions are often the first exercise you should try to decrease your pain. They help to restore your lumbar extension range and reduce muscle spasm. For more tips and suggestions if you have acute back pain go to this recent Physio on a Roll instagram story  I encourage all my clients over 40 years of age to consider doing 1 set of 10 passive extension exercises each day as a preventative exercise.

Set up:

  • Face down on the floor with arms bent, hands placed near the shoulders as shown.
  • Feet are hip-width apart.
passive extension start position


  1. Draw your shoulder blades down and back.
  2. Breathe in and as you breathe out, push into your hands and lift your upper body off the floor, resting on your forearms or fully extending the elbows as shown (see tips).
  3. Keep your hips and lower body on the floor (think of the hips as being “glued” to the floor).
  4. Breathe in as you lower.
  5. Repeat x10.
passive extension exercise passive extensions to elbows


  • Don’t push into pain. Stop short of it, and your range will improve over time.
  • All backs differ in their flexibility. You may not be able to fully extend your elbows. You might only get to your forearms or somewhere in between.
  • Keep your bottom relaxed.
  • Shoulders should not creep up to the ears.
  • Tuck your chin a little.
  • Do hourly (only x10 each time) as needed to settle acute back pain.