Back pain is the second most common neurological ailment in the United States—surpassed only by headache.1 Eight out of 10 Americans, or an estimated 80%, will complain of back pain at some point in their lives.2 Many will take a do-it-yourself (or a wait-and-see) approach to fix the problem, solution that, fortunately, often works. Most back pain dissipates on its own after a few days.1
In some cases, however, it doesn’t. Short-term or acute back pain lasts a few days or weeks; chronic back pain is experienced for longer than 3 months. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases recommends back pain sufferers seek medical care if the pain persists for more than 3 days.3
Some of these patients will find themselves in physical therapy, where the goal will be to alleviate or manage the pain. Practitioners of the McKenzie Method of Mechanical Diagnosis and Therapy share these goals but take a unique approach, creating a patient-specific program designed to minimize the number of visits. This program emphasizes active patient involvement, employing personalized exercises whenever possible.
Sometimes, however, the patient is unable to take such an active role in rehabilitation, and the therapist must use additional means, such as hands-on and traction techniques, until the patient has recovered the strength and ability. “We try to do a lot of patient generator forces first to see if they can resolve themselves and then incorporate traction at a later point in time, after we have exhausted what the patient can do on their own,” says Clint Lohr, PT, cert.MDT, clinical coordinator for Baptist Health Care in Pensacola, Fla.