Back Braces For Lower Back Pain

Is A Back Brace Really The Answer for Your Lower Back Pain?

….Back braces for lower back pain? Do they really work? Are back braces just a fancy gimmick or can they really end lower back pain?

Appropriate back braces work, but not every one is made the same. Don’t believe the sales hype. We strip away the fluff and independently ask what their role is and if they do have a place, what actually constitutes a good back brace?

How Does A Back Brace Work?

Back braces for lower back pain can be got both through prescription by a doctor or privately. For a back brace to be used effectively however, it is vital that you understand when and where to use them within a comprehensive rehabilitation programme.

Back braces are generally very effective because they are able to reduce the strain on your lower back, therefore relieving muscle tension.

However, it is worth pointing out that even in 2018, there was very little clinical evidence one way or the other – as noted in a systematic review by The School Of Health and Rehabilitation (in Keele University)

At the same time, providing your wear the brace correctly, they will help to redistribute the weight hanging on your spine and thus actually increase the activities you are able to perform during daily activities.

Achieving Pain Relief…..

In additional to helping the back recover, it is also accepted in medical research that a high quality back brace will contribute to pain relief. It achieves this in three main ways –

  1. It reduces vibration / movements between the vertebrae in the spine. Even tiny movements around irritated joints and nerve endings can cause tremendous pain, and a snug fitting back brace with proper levels of support can prevent this.
  2. A back brace will reduce the most painful movement which is normally the twist or bending forward/ back.
  3. It will reduce pressure on your lower back by stabilising the spine and providing extra support – effectively preventing additional injuries and passing some of the weight burden on to your legs.

While concentrated studies on the effectiveness of back braces remain limited, it is accepted that good quality back braces are effective when used as part of a rehabilitation alongside other treatments such as physio, massage and rest.

A photo of a patient with a supporting back brace

Not All Back Braces Are The Same – Some Support, Others Just Hold Your Stomach Tight!

When NOT To Use A Back Brace

However, caution should be used when choosing and using a back support –

  • Being non-prescribed, a poorly fitting or designed back brace may not perform accurately and result in a false sense of security and ultimately further injury.
  • While wearing a back brace, you’re not allowing the muscles to move and get stronger to support the spine again in the long-term. As a result, a back-brace should only be worn following fresh injury or exacerbation of an old injury.
  • Similarly (and for the same reason as above), a back brace shouldn’t be worn all day – maybe just for a period of hours each day when physical activity is most likely and never worn at night when it will both restrict your mobility and may even effect your breathing.

When To Use A Back Brace

Healing following surgery. This is the most common use, with the back brace allowing a ‘quiet’ period for bones/ plates to fuse and the back to heal. Typically they are used for 4-7 weeks following surgery.

Isthmic Spondylolisthesis. Caused by a fractured spinal segment, a strong back brace with good rigidity will keep spinal slippage to a minimum, allowing some movement and reducing the risk of further injury

Osteoarthritis/ Spinal Stenosis. Again, increasing the stability around the facet joints will help greatly to relieve the pain

Back Strain. By far the most common use. Using a back brace is often advised in the early stages following the injury to help alleviate muscle tension. This will normally last for 3-4 weeks depending on the extent of the injury/ pain. Additionally, a good quality back brace will hold the bodies heat in, further helping to ease tense muscles.

The Final Word –

A good quality back brace can be an extremely valuable tool in your recovery from a serious back injury. They can also prove invaluable if your back pain is the result of osteoarthritis when the extra support will greatly alleviate your pain.

In this context it is fair to say that back braces for lower back pain can be an effective (if not entirely proven) tool.

However, if your back pain is fairly minimal and consistent, then they are probably not the right tool for you – at least not as a permanent fixture on your body, where in the long term they may do more harm than good.

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References –

1. Healy A, Farmer S, Pandyan A, Chockalingam N. (2018) A systematic review of randomised controlled trials assessing effectiveness of prosthetic and orthotic interventions. PLoS ONE.

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