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The McKenzie Method for Back and Neck Pain

The McKenzie Method (MDT) is a method for assessing, classifying and treating patients with pain in their back, neck, arms and legs. It is a non-surgical treatment that involves physical therapy and exercises.

Saratoga Spine for Lower Back Pain - The McKenzie Method for Back and Neck Pain

What is the McKenzie Method?

The McKenzie Method (also know as MDT for Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy) is a system for assessing, diagnosing and treating patients with spine and extremity pain.  The method was developed by Dr. Robin McKenzie in the 1950’s and is used by many doctors and physical therapists in the treatment of lower back pain1.

The McKenzie method is a four step process of patient assessment, classification, treatment and prevention.

Saratoga Spine - The McKenzie Method for Lower Back Pain

Image Source: The McKenzie Institute

Step 1 – Assessment

During the initial assessment phase you will share with your doctor or therapist a history of your pain. You’ll also then perform certain movements and motions repeatedly so your doctor can determine how best to classify your condition.

Step 2 – Classification

After the assessment your doctor or McKenzie therapist will then classify your condition into three main subgroups:

  • postural syndrome
  • dysfunction syndrome
  • derangements syndrome

A small group of patients may fall into an “other” category if they cannot be classified into one the groups above.

Step 3 – Treatment

Based on your MDT classification your doctor will then recommend exercises, stretches and positions to practice.

Your doctor or therapist will work with you to teach you the techniques so you can perform them yourself, while at home. Learning the McKenzie exercises yourself enables you to complete them more often than if you only worked on them during doctor’s or therapy appointments.

Step 4 – Prevention

After learning how to perform the exercises that will benefit your symptoms you can learn how to prevent recurrence of pain. This prevention is accomplished through regular exercises and immediate self-treatment when pain symptoms arise.

The McKenzie Method (The McKenzie Technique) MDT for lower back pain

Image Source: The McKenzie Institute

McKenzie Exercises

Based on your classification a doctor can prescribe different McKenzie exercises during your MDT treatment. The McKenzie exercises usually involve extension and flexion.  They may be difficult at first but this pain usually subsides after repetition. The goal with McKenzie exercises is to try and centralize the pain into your back or neck and prevent it from extending down your leg or arms.

For more information, see our list of back exercises you can perform at home.


  1. Wikipedia
  2. The McKenzie Institute
*Please Note: Information on this site or any recommended sites should not be used as a diagnosis or a substitute for talking with your doctor. Always talk with your doctor about diagnosis and treatment information.
Blue Distinction Center for Spine Surgery