How Does The McKenzie Method ™ Help Low Back Pain?


The McKenzie Method ™ (also known as repeated movements or MDT, an acronym for Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy ®) is a classification system used by some physical therapists to help determine the best pathway to treat a patient’s pain. This method is not only used for low back pain, but also for neck pain, knee pain, shoulder pain, leg pain, and numbness, weakness, and tingling in extremities. This is a technique that is noninvasive and promotes patient education and understanding, along with self-treatment.

How It Works

When receiving a McKenzie or MDT assessment, a physical therapist will evaluate your areas of impairment and select a certain testing regimen. The assessment usually involves performing specific timed motions in a repetitive manner to determine if your symptoms may be caused by derangement, dysfunction, or postural issues.

  • Derangement- Many therapists will compare this to a “train off the tracks”. Essentially, this means that areas of joint alignment are abnormal, whether due to a spinal disc, ligamentous issue, subluxation, or other issues.
  • Dysfunction- This typically refers to tight muscle or tissue that requires stretching or elongation to decrease symptoms.
  • Postural- Malalignment of typical joint approximation can cause chronic or acute syndromes.

This testing may involve different positions for a patient to assume. Please let your therapist know if a certain position is unattainable for you. If your therapist has been able to classify your impairments into one of these 3 categories, then a certain treatment regimen can be distributed based on your individual results. There are times that this method may temporarily cause an increase in your symptoms as well, but this generally helps us get to the root issue of your impairments.

So How About My Back?

The reason why many physical therapists use The McKenzie Method ™ is because it allows us to have a relatively predictable treatment course for our patients with research based evidence to guide improvement. Once your symptoms are classified into being a derangement, dysfunction, or postural issue, there are treatments and exercises that we will recommend you perform, and some not to perform. We often see patients in the clinic with low back pain who have been focused on flexion-based stretching to assist their pain, but have only caused symptoms to increase. With the MDT method, we often determine that patients need to move a different direction to alleviate their numbness and tingling, buttocks pain, or even weakness in knees! Every patient is different, so receiving your individual MDT assessment is a key part of the process.

At ACS, we offer MDT assessments to help classify your symptoms and get to the ROOT of your pain! Contact us in regards to an assessment today!

Hanna Kearney, PT DPT

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