USC’s Justin Lantz becomes first physical therapist named to North American Spine Society’s annual 20 Under 40 list.
BY DANIEL P. SMITH
JUSTIN LANTZ WILL ALWAYS BE THE FIRST, though he certainly hopes he’s not the last.
At the North American Spine Society’s 38th Annual Meeting October 18-21 in Los Angeles, Lantz captured a spot on the organization’s annual 20 Under 40 list for 2023, an honor recognizing the associate professor of clinical physical therapy as one of spine care’s brightest young clinicians and future leaders. Lantz is the first physical therapist to earn the esteemed award since the campaign’s launch in 2018.
“The award isn’t just a step for me, but something capable of pushing the entire PT profession forward,” says Lantz, a dual appointed associate professor of clinical physical therapy and clinical family medicine at USC.
A Chicago-area native and first-generation college student, Lantz pursued physical therapy work to blend his interest in medicine with a desire for hands-on clinical work. As a doctor of physical therapy degree student at Northwestern University, he gravitated toward orthopedics and the prospects of working with athletes. Soon, however, he found himself drawn to a different group: spine patients.
“Many of these individuals had seen various health professionals but weren’t getting any better from surgeries, injections and other interventions,” Lantz says. “They were frustrated and jaded.”
Empathetic and determined, Lantz wanted to shift those realities and crafted a new professional mission: to properly manage spine conditions and provide relief for spine pain, one of the top causes of global disability.
After concluding his DPT studies, earning his board certification in orthopedic physical therapy and completing an orthopaedic manual PT fellowship at the University of Illinois Chicago, Lantz joined USC in 2015 — a move supercharging his purpose-driven efforts. With access to resources, experienced colleagues and collaborative forces, including the world-renowned USC Spine Center led by Jeffrey Wang and John Liu, Lantz began pursuing interdisciplinary work with physicians and surgeons and launching research projects in postoperative management of spinal surgery.
“I wasn’t willing to accept mediocrity,” he says.
For Lantz, that meant not only expanding his own clinical expertise but training others as well to amplify the spine PT specialty. In 2021, he launched USC’s Spine Physical Therapy Fellowship Program, one of only four accredited spine physical therapy fellowship program in the United States.
“While DPT training and learning orthopedics through residency are valuable experiences, the spine is something requiring more intentional focus for proper treatment and management,” says Lantz, who remains the fellowship program’s director.
Lantz continues pushing advancements in spine PT diagnosis and management — both at USC and beyond. He teaches spine coursework in USC’s DPT and MD programs, has helped create curriculum guidelines for spine physical therapy fellowship programs to increase academic training in the specialty and oversees an ambitious research program designed to inform treatment protocols. The overarching goal, he says, is to establish clear, multidisciplinary clinical practice guidelines to improve patient outcomes and care delivery.
“The physical therapist can play a vital role in spine care, and I hope the field continues to see this so we can create better results for these patients who really need it,” Lantz says.