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The McKenzie Method for Low Back Pain and Sciatica

If you have low back pain, pain in your thigh, or pain travelling down your leg into your calf, you may benefit from physical therapy. Working with a physical therapist for back pain has been proven to provide you with rapid relief of pain, improved mobility, and strategies to help you prevent and manage future problems with your back.

There are many different treatment strategies and methodologies for back pain. One such method, called The McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy (MDT), has been proven to help patients rapidly reduce or abolish back pain and improve mobility. The physical therapists at Capital Region Physical Therapy are all certified or working towards certification in the McKenzie Method.

What is the McKenzie Method?

The McKenzie Method is a system of evaluation and treatment based on patient responses to repeated motion testing and static positions. McKenzie experts (like the ones at Capital Region Physical Therapy) are specially trained to listen to your problems, select the right movements to help you rapidly move better and feel better, and provide you with information about your condition. That way, you can get started on your self-care treatment regimen right away.

During the McKenzie evaluation for back pain and sciatica, your PT will be looking for specific clues to classify your condition into one of three specific syndromes. The three McKenzie syndromes are:

  • Postural syndrome

  • Derangement syndrome

  • Dysfunction syndrome

Once your therapist correctly classifies your condition, that classification will be used to guide treatment. Treatment is centered around your self-care program: things you do each and every day to help decrease your pain and improve your ability to keep the pain away.


In the late 1950's and early 1960's, Robin McKenzie, the founder of the method, realized that some of his patients were able to centralize their symptoms with specific movements. Centralization is the movement of pain from your leg, thigh, or side of your back to the middle. Centralization of pain that occurs as you exercise is a good sign.

Some facts about centralization:

  • It occurs if you have the derangement syndrome.

  • When your symptoms rapidly centralize, you often remain better as a result.

  • Centralization is often accompanied by improved motion in your lumbar spine.

  • Centralization of symptoms have been proven to associated with a positive outcome.

So, if your PT is able to help you centralize your pain during your first session, he or she will know you have a derangement with a specific direction of motion that will help you feel better and move better. Your PT will also be able to give you a positive prognosis; people who are able to centralize are typically much better in just a couple weeks.

Are YOU Able to Centralize?

If you have pain in one side of your back, down your thigh or into your leg, are you able to centralize it? How can you find out if your pain is able to be centralized?

The best way to determine if your pain is caused by a derangement and can be centralized is to have an evaluation with one of our McKenzie-trained physical therapists. Your PT will analyze your movements, understand your condition, and help determine if you can rapidly recover from your back pain or sciatica. Even if you are not able to fully centralize, your PT can give you strategies that help you feel better and move better.

So, if you have back pain or sciatica, give us a call at (518) 439-5006 and ask for a McKenzie evaluation. We offer appointments within 48 hours of contacting our office, and we can help you get on the road to recovery. You can also send our receptionist an email to set up an appointment.

Brett Sears, PT is the owner and senior physical therapist at Capital Region Physical Therapy. He has been certified in the McKenzie Method since 2006, and he is the PT Expert writer at, a top-20 health internet website. He enjoys running, playing soccer, playing music, and hanging out with his awesome wife and kids.


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