Clinical Conversations

Low back and bilateral leg pain: Our Clinical Case of the Week


Up to 80% of the population will experience low back pain (LBP) at some point in their adult life (Croft et al 1997).  It is estimated that health care costs for low back pain are larger than for any other disease for which economic analysis is available (Maniadakis and Gray 2000) ($31 billion/year).  There is little to no evidence supporting the use of traction, thermal modalities, or electrical stimulation for the treatment of LBP. Unfortunately, these strategies are commonly used for the bulk of LBP treatment.   Many studies conclude that the McKenzie method of evaluation and treatment for LBP is superior to that of standard treatment (general stretching and strengthening).  What makes the McKenzie approach different is its classification system. Based off of symptom response to repeated lumbar spine movements, patients are classified into 1 of 3 syndromes (derangement, dysfunction, postural).  After patients have been classified, their individualized treatment plan is created. The McKenzie method also emphasizes self-treatment and long term symptom management.  I consider this the most valued aspect of treatment, as statistics show LBP is recurring in nature. Let’s review a case of a patient with a very successful outcome utilizing the McKenzie method.


Patient presented to therapy 2 weeks after the onset of LBP with bilateral leg pain.  Patient described sharp pain which radiated down to the left foot and down to the right shin. Symptoms started after a weekend of working (auto mechanic) which involved repetitive bending and lifting of heavy equipment. Patient rated worst pain as an 11/10 for the back and a 10/10 for the left leg, occurring on a daily basis.  Patient was severely limited with walking, sitting and sleep.


Patient demonstrated pain with all lumbar spine motions in standing.  There was no neurological (strength, sensory, reflex, neural tension) deficit.  This is important to test when there is a presence of leg pain.

Baseline symptoms= LBP + left foot tingling.  Patient was asked to bend forward 10 times, touching his toes.  This resulted in increased low back pain, no effect on foot tingling.  Bending backwards 10 times also increased LBP with no effect on foot tingling.  Patient was then asked to lie on his stomach and perform prone press ups (a back bend using arms to push up into extension). This exercise abolished left foot symptoms, better leaving the clinic that day.


Patient was given prone press-ups to be done every hour until his follow up appointment.  The next day, the patient returned to the clinic happily reporting that he had not experienced leg pain in over 24 hours!  The patient was even able to perform tasks associated with moving into his new home that weekend.  In 2 weeks his back pain rating had decreased to a 3/10 and he was experiencing little to no leg symptoms!  Patient continued therapy over the next few months with exercise progressions and modifications as needed.  At discharge, patient was able to perform his duties as an auto mechanic and continue his training as a member of the National Guard.


Do not fall victim to chronic low back pain.  This is associated with huge healthcare costs, over utilization of medication and surgery. All of which would otherwise be avoided with a simple exercise, requiring no special equipment.   The patient from this week’s case left the clinic feeling very empowered by his own ability to treat his symptoms and was no longer considering having major spine surgery.