Lower Back Pain Costs Us $90 Billion a Year — But This Treatment Is Free

A woman laying on a yoga mat performing the curl up back stretch.
Penny Hoarder writer Dana Sitar performs the curl up stretch. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

Last year, right before I was supposed to march in a Christmas parade with my work colleagues, I tweaked my back at the gym and woke up the next day barely able to walk.

My monstrous ego had sidelined me yet again — and I was supposed to be the snowman!

I checked out my options.

See a chiropractor? Two hundred dollars a session.

Go to an urgent care clinic and get medication? Did I really want pay the $100 co-pay and get prescribed drugs that are the source of a national public health emergency?

Acupuncture? I can barely give blood, let alone allow someone to stick me with hundreds of needles.

OK, how about a simple $30 massage? Just. Don’t. Touch. Me.

I ended up wallowing in pain for two months, unable to pick up so much as a fork. I worked a cushy writing job, so I didn’t have to miss work, but millions of Americans aren’t so lucky.

In fact, back pain costs the U.S. as a whole $90 billion every year, according to this Vox article. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

3 Simple Exercises That Can Help Your Lower Back Pain

Of course, if your lower back pain is absolutely unbearable, you could have a seriously injured spine and should definitely see a doctor. However, just moving around and light exercise can be great salves for an aching back.

Tai chi, yoga and pilates are all free general strategies for dealing with back pain, but here are three exercises you can try right now thanks to the excellent and comprehensive Vox article and spine biomechanics professor Stuart McGill.

The Curl-Up

For this one, lie down with your hands tucked underneath the arch of your back. Keep one of your legs bent and the other straight. If you have a particularly deep back arch, put one hand on top of the other so they are touching your back.

Now keep your back straight, but lift your head, shoulders and chest slightly off of the ground. Hold the position for a few seconds and return to the starting position.

The best part about this one? It also works those abs — six-pack here I come!

A woman laying on a yoga mat performing the curl up back exercise.
Penny Hoarder writer Dana Sitar performs the curl up exercise. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

The Bird Dog

Begin on your hand and knees on your yoga or exercise mat. Don’t arch your back or let your spine sag — keep it in a neutral position. Stretch your left arm forward while simultaneously stretching your right foot back hovering above the floor. Both your arm and your leg should be parallel to the floor.

Hold that pose for a few seconds, then return to the hands-and-knees position. Repeat with the alternate arm and leg, and you’ll be on your way to breaking free from lower back pain.

And, like the curl-up, this strengthens the abdominals as well.

A woman laying on a yoga mat performing the bird dog back exercise
Penny Hoarder writer Dana Sitar performs the bird dog back exercise. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

The Side Bridge

Lie straight on your side with your hip touching the mat supported by your forearm.

Lift your hips straight upward, and hold the position for a few seconds. Then repeat on the other side.

This simple exercise will also hit the abs hard.

These three stretches are just a starting point. That Vox article has tons of other ways to help solve your lower back pain without breaking the bank.

I know one thing for sure — I won’t miss another Christmas parade again.

Penny Hoarder writer Dana Sitar performs the side bridge back exercise. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder

Alex Mahadevan is a data journalist at The Penny Hoarder. He really enjoys picking heavy things up and then putting them down.