The chance meeting that changed the course of musculoskeletal medicine

Dr Jordan Duncan

Sometimes the deepest discoveries happen by accident.

This was the case for Alexander Fleming, the Scottish biologist who returned from holiday to discover a bluish-green mold growing around bacteria in a petri dish. After accidentally leaving the petri dish open before leaving, he returned to find not only the mold but also that it was secreting a substance that inhibited the growth of the bacteria. He took samples and discovered that the mold belonged to the species Penicillium notatum, which eventually led to the development of the antibiotic penicillin.

A similar chance encounter changed the course of musculoskeletal medicine.

It happened on a Wednesday in 1956 when Robin McKenzie, a young physiotherapist from New Zealand, was going about his day treating patients. One patient in particular, a man known as Mr. Smith, was scheduled for that afternoon. For the previous three weeks, Robin had been treating Mr. Smith for right-sided lower back pain radiating down the back of his right thigh. Despite using the conventional treatments of the day, Mr. Smith’s symptoms had not improved at all.

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