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,” she thought to herself while watching her daughter’s lacrosse match. “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.” It didn’t occur to her until later how much her physical limitations were isolating her and making her feel much older than she was.
“I’d considered myself to be in pretty good shape…until back pain became a daily occurrence,” she says, noting that sitting at her work computer was torture, but standing just as bad. “Pain spoiled so many special moments,” she adds, so much so that it started to affect her mood. Judy and her husband couldn’t cuddle, and their date nights stopped altogether.
“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?”
Judy reports hitting a low after a trip to Maryland to visit family for her aunt’s 60th wedding anniversary party. Pain shooting up the right side of her back made the five-hour drive miserable and almost ruined her trip. “When I got back home,” she says, “I finally went to an orthopedic doctor, who offered me medication and sent me on my way without providing any real answers.”
Judy didn’t like relying on prescription pills, so she 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.”
Finally, she told her husband how bad she was actually feeling. He was an amateur power lifter, and she was amazed at how he could put his body through intense strain without injuring his back. Typically, Judy zoned out when he talked about fitness — what does a male weight lifter know about a woman’s body anyway? — but she ended up using his advice.
“[My husband] 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.”
Judy sighs when recalling the fact that she couldn’t complete all 10 repetitions the first day. The pain her inflexibility made it impossible. But she soldiered on, and after a few mornings, began looking forward to the routine. “It felt like a massage for my sore muscles,” she says.
The exercises worked better than any pain medicine she’d tried — and didn’t cost anything — and within a month, her pain was gone. Her mood and stamina shot up. Also, her jeans fit again.
“My recovery has been miraculous,” she laughs. “I’m making memories again — cheering on my kids from the bleachers and comfortably standing outside for stargazing with my husband.”
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. 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
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
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
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).