Health

This 3-Minute Exercise Cured One Woman’s Excruciating Back Pain

Plus, three moves you can do at home!

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Severe lower-back pain left Judy Herbst, 57, sitting on the sidelines for years. Then she found a no-cost easy solution that restored her health.

Maybe I should have stayed home…this pain is too much,” Judy Herbst said to herself with
a sigh at her daughter’s lacrosse match. “I’d been looking forward to that game all week, and I didn’t want to miss a moment of the action or the chance to socialize with friends. But with my back pain, it was impossible to sit on the hard bleachers. So once again, I found myself standing off to the side alone, trying to lean against a wall for support. As I listened to the distant crowd roar and wondered what I’d missed, it struck me how my physical limitations
made me feel old and isolated.

“I’d considered myself to be in pretty good shape…until back pain became a daily occurrence. Sitting at my work computer was torture, but standing was agony too. Pain spoiled so many special moments that it started to take a toll on my mood. My husband and I had always tried to make small activities feel special. But even cuddling on the couch felt uncomfortable.

“At first I blamed poor posture and a few stubborn pounds for the pain. And I knew my core muscles had weakened over the years and that strengthening those muscles was important…but who has the time and energy to go to the gym? Just getting through each day seemed like too much effort.

“I hit a low after a trip to Maryland to visit family for my aunt’s 60th wedding anniversary party. Pain shooting up the right side of my back made the 5-hour drive miserable and almost ruined the whole trip. When I got back home, I finally went to an orthopedic doctor, who offered me medication and sent me on my way without providing any real answers. But I didn’t like having to rely on prescription pills, so I took a couple over-the-counter pain relievers every day and hoped for the best.

“I dreamed of finding a more natural remedy, but I didn’t want to consult a parade of doctors. My sister, who had endured slipped discs and back surgery, had seen enough specialists for both of us. She’d tried massage, chiropractic care and acupuncture yet still lived in pain. Thinking of her struggle, I started to worry about my future.

“Though I had been trying to stay strong, I finally admitted to my husband, Robert, how bad I was feeling. He was an amateur power lifter, and I was amazed at how he could put his body through intense strain without injuring his back. So even though I usually zoned out when he talked about fitness — what does a male weight lifter know about a woman’s body anyway? — I finally asked him for advice.

“Robert thought doing a few easy moves each morning would help me get my back on the right track. He taught me a 3-minute routine that I could do while lying down on my bed or the floor.

“The first day, I couldn’t complete all 10 repetitions because of pain and inflexibility. But I was determined to keep trying. And after a few mornings, I began looking forward to the routine. It felt like a massage for my sore muscles.

“The amazing part: After just four weeks, my back pain was gone! Those exercises worked better than any pain medicine — and didn’t cost a dime! My mood and stamina shot up and suddenly, my jeans fit again.

“My recovery has been miraculous. I’m making memories again — cheering on my kids from the bleachers and comfortably standing outside for stargazing with Robert. Thank goodness I listened to my husband — we’ve been together over 30 years, so I guess he can be right once in a while. Just don’t tell him that…I don’t want it to go to his head!”

3 Simple Exercises to Banish Back Pain

When women turn to their doctor for help with back pain, the majority are given an Rx for
opioids. Women ages 40 to 59 are prescribed these pills more than any other age group and twice as frequently as men. “The opioid epidemic is out of control, especially for back pain,” says rehabilitation physician Vijay Vad, M.D., author of Back Rx and assistant professor at Weill Cornell Medical College. And science reveals the meds aren’t even that effective: 87 percent of those who take opioids for back pain get no relief.

A better way: “The majority of women with lower-back pain could completely cure it by strengthening their core, which stabilizes the spine and decreases the load on joints and discs,” says Dr. Vad. Indeed, back-pain patients in one study who did core exercises three times a week eased their pain by 92 percent in six weeks. To get the benefits, follow the lead of Judy Herbst, who cured her pain with three exercises. Experts suggest doing these moves three days a week and working up to six days as they get easier.

1. Single-knee pulls

exercises for back pain
Jane Goodrich/Jane Goodrich Photography

Knee pulls strengthen the erector spinae and lumbar multifidus, the muscles that run along the spine and relieve pressure on the lower back. TO DO: Lie on your back with legs straight. Lift your left foot up and bring your knee toward your chest, then extend back out. Do 10 reps,
then switch legs.

2. Single-leg lifts

exercises for back pain
Jane Goodrich/Jane Goodrich Photography

Lifts help build the hip flexors and gluteus maximus, which increase mobility in hips
to lighten pressure on the joints. TO DO: Lie on your back with legs straight out. Keep your left leg as straight as possible and raise it up until your butt lifts off the floor; lower back down. Do 10 reps, then switch legs.

3. Double-leg hold

exercises for back pain
Jane Goodrich/Jane Goodrich Photography

This move works the transverse abdominis, the muscles that wrap around the abdomen and
help stabilize the spine. TO DO: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Extend your feet out, then slowly lower them toward the floor until you feel your back start to arch. Hold there for 15 seconds; rest for 10 seconds. Do 10 reps.

This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Save on Healthcare (Buy on Amazon, $12.99). 

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