Senior Health: A new treatment for back and neck pain


It’s a startling rate but anywhere from 40% to 80% of people experience back pain in their lifetime. About 30% of people have back pain in any given month. Risk factors for developing back pain include a history of previous back pain episodes, a sedentary lifestyle, obesity, depression and physical factors like heavy or frequent lifting, and loading the spine in flexed or awkward positions, amongst others. Most of us have a good appreciation of how back pain, neck pain and headaches affects our lives: pain causes a decrease in physical activity levels, loss of work time and a decrease in the quality of life. Not surprisingly, back pain remains the greatest contributor of disability in the world today despite advancement in medical care and improved work conditions.

UHS Delaware Valley Hospital physical therapists have recently received their certification in what is called the McKenzie method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy or MDT. The method provides a different approach from the traditional methods for treating back and neck pain and has been proven to be very effective in decreasing pain, improving activity levels and ultimately, one’s quality of life.

The McKenzie Method is one of the most researched approaches to the treatment of back and neck pain. Its evidenced-based method of active treatment and patient education for neck and back pain, and headache management is also used for problems in the extremities. MDT patients report very good results such as decreased pain, improved physical function and reduced use of pain medications. Patients also report good satisfaction levels from MDT as they become independent in carrying out their own treatment exercises to manage their pain in a safe, effective and practical manner.

The McKenzie Institute website explains, “MDT works in three primary steps: assessment, treatment and prevention. The key distinction is its initial assessment component — a safe and reliable means to accurately reach a diagnosis and only then make the appropriate treatment plan. The treatment exercises are guided by the effects of repeated movements that reduce or abolish pain and restores normal function. Patients gain hands-on knowledge to learn how to self-treat, helping to minimize the risk of recurrence. Even patients who’ve suffered from chronic musculoskeletal pain for years can find success with an MDT assessment.”

Occasionally, pain or symptoms can be felt in the arms or legs, even though the problem actually originates in the spine. Physical therapists follow examination methods which help to tell the difference between symptoms originating in the spine versus issues localized in the limbs or other areas of the body. There are moderate to high levels of evidence showing that MDT is superior to other forms of rehabilitation treatments for patients with chronic lower back pain while reducing disability.

The exercises are easy to perform. One of our patients said, “It’s such a small movement and I am amazed how a small movement can be so effective.” Specific exercises provided are individually matched based on the examination findings using the MDT method and show significantly superior results to decrease pain and also decrease the use of pain medications compared to other general types of exercises usually prescribed for back and neck issues. Some studies have also shown the potential for MDT to reduce lower back disc surgery rates.

If you have not had this specific type of treatment for back or neck pain or headaches using the McKenzie’s MDT method in the past, it may very well be worth your while to speak with your provider about obtaining a physical therapy referral as this method yields superior outcomes when compared to other usual forms of rehabilitation. The professional team at UHS-DVH Physical Therapy has been providing care to patients who are consistently very satisfied with the services they receive. However, I feel by bringing the McKenzie method to DVH, we will be able to achieve even better outcomes and pain relief for our patients.

If you would like to be evaluated by a Physical Therapist, ask your local physical therapy center if they offer MDT. If they do not, you are welcome to call us at 607-865-2155. We work as an extension of your medical team, so speaking with your doctor is vital. Most health insurances do require a physician’s (or provider’s) prescription.

More information about the McKenzie Method is available on their website at

Nathan Moodley is the manager of rehabilitative services at UHS Delaware Valley Hospital in Walton.

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