by Richard Hollis
At some time or other most people with low back pain wonder if a lumbar support belt might help their symptoms. Whether you need help with a current bout of back pain or be interested in preventing future episodes of back pain, I hope this summary of the current thinking helps you make up your mind.
Back belts are advertised as working by reducing the load on the spine and by improving posture when lifting and bending. The forces going through the lumbar spine when you lift can be considerable. Researchers have measured these forces in power lifters and they peak at 1.7 tonnes of force! There is, however, controversy around whether hard lumbar support belts that weightlifters wear actually help in the performance of their sport. Some studies show that there is actually an increase in low back muscle work during lifting with one of these belts on. Despite this, weightlifters continue to wear them when training and in competition.
Weight training in a gym or lifting heavy weights in a competition is not the same as lifting around the house or at work, however. Most of us are not going to lift such weights but lifting and bending to pick up loads, especially if the task is repetitive, can build potential damage to the low back. The sort of lumbar support belts available for domestic or work use are usually constructed of tough neoprene or a webbed elastic type material. This sort of construction is much more comfortable for all day use and can easily be worn under clothing, next to the skin. But will it help you?
The most recent investigation at preventing back pain using a lumbar support belts was carried out in 2009. It was published in the prestigious Spine Journal and looked at a variety of back pain prevention measures. Of the four trials comparing the prevalence of back pain in people wearing and not wearing a back support, it conclusively showed that there was no benefit. In fact, the only preventative measure that came out positively was exercise.
So unfortunately there is no shortcut to preventing episodes of back pain by wearing a lumbar support belt or brace. Back exercises, however, can be very helpful and will make a significant difference to any current episodes of back pain you may be having as well, as future ones. I recommend therefore that you get your problem checked by a professional and get some advice on the best treatment and preventative exercises for your problem. At Broadgate we have a team of experts who can advise you on the best treatment and exercises for your problem.