Celeb Trainer Harley Pasternak: How to Nip Back Pain in the Bud
These four easy moves promise relief from chronic aches
Harley Pasternak is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with stars from Halle Berry and Lady Gaga to Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr. He’s also aNew York Times best-selling author, with titles including The Body Reset Diet and The 5-Factor Diet. His new book 5 Pounds is out now. Tweet him @harleypasternak.
Often the simplest solution is the best. It’s also often the least expensive. But when it comes to lower back pain, do healthcare providers typically prescribe the simplest solution? You may know the answer to this question from personal experience. It’s rare to have never suffered from this particular form of pain, which is the third-most common reason for visiting a doctor. Lower back pain can last for days, making it a major cause of workplace absenteeism. Plus, such pain is rarely a one-time experience, so preventing further incidents is key.
Let me rephrase my question. Which is the best way to alleviate and prevent lower back pain?
An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure
The correct answer is — drum roll, please — exercise! According to a recently published review study in the prestigious journal JAMA Internal Medicine, exercise beats out a host of more frequently prescribed (and often passive) treatments, including surgery, ultrasound and traction, to say nothing of prescription painkillers. Of course, exercise is also the least costly — after all, you can do it in the privacy of your home — so no wonder it’s not top of mind for many practitioners.
It’s not just doctors and other health professionals who stand to profit from back pain treatments. Offering “solutions” that include ergonomic chairs and desks, orthotic shoe inserts, magnetic back belts, special mattresses and countless other devices is a big and profitable business. It’s estimated that costs for healthcare treatments, surgery, medications and lost work days for all spinal issues, including lower back pain, in the United States can add up to as much as $80 billion annually. As comedian Chris Rock famously said, there’s “no money in the cure … the money’s in the medicine!”
The researchers looked at 21 studies including 30,850 subjects around the world to find out the best way to reduce the risk of experiencing acute lower back pain. They found that for at least 25 percent — and up to 40 percent — of the subjects, exercise reduced the risk of a repeat experience for one year after an episode. None of the other treatments or gadgets offered comparable results, yet healthcare providers don’t routinely prescribe exercise. According to a commentary by internist Tim Carey, MD, that accompanied the JAMA review article, fewer than half of patients with chronic lower back pain participate in a fitness program.
Which Is the Best Exercise?
Interestingly, according to the study, the type of exercise — whether brisk walking or other aerobic activities, strengthening the core or flexibility and stretching — didn’t seem to matter. Because most of the studies reviewed had relatively few participants, the authors felt that more research is necessary to understand which kind(s) of exercise is most effective.
While we await further research on that subject, let me offer my four of my favorite lower back exercises. They all appear in my latest book, 5 Pounds: The Breakthrough 5-Day Plan to Jump-Start Rapid Weight Loss (and Never Gain It Back!).
1. Superman works your lower back as well as your butt (glutes) and some hamstrings. Lie with your face down on the floor with your arms and legs fully extended so that your body looks like the letter ‘X’ from above. From this position, lift your arms/chest and thighs toward the ceiling as though you were flying, and then lower them down to the beginning position. Don’t hold the pose; just keep going up and down without resting on the floor.
2. Hip Thrust works your lower back as well as your glutes. Lie on the floor or an exercise mat with your head, neck and back flat so your spine is in one straight line. Bend your knees so that your feet are also flat on the ground, shoulder-width apart and parallel. Exhale, and using your lower back and glutes, drive your butt off the floor until your head, hips and knees are in line. Then slowly lower your hips and buttocks back down to the starting position, and repeat.
3. Plank works your rectus abdominals, the front of your core. Rest your forearms on the floor and extend your legs back so your toes are on the ground and there’s a straight line from your heels to your shoulders. Contract your midsection, forming a rigid plank with your body, and hold as long as you can. Don’t forget to breathe. Return to starting position, and repeat.
4. Side Plank works your core, along with your obliques, chest and back. Lie on your right side on the floor or a mat, placing your forearm in front of yourself and stacking your feet one upon the other. Exhale and raise your body, supporting it on your forearm and feet. Inhale, and contract your abdominal muscles. Hold for 30/45/60 seconds, depending upon your skill level. Return to starting position, and repeat.
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