Back Braces: Are They Helpful?

by lyndal, February 6, 2013

woman back brace 190x300 Back Braces: Are They Helpful?How Helpful are Back Braces? You see the people wearing them at the large chain stores. They are usually part of the uniform of the stock person or anyone else who lifts large amounts of product.Back braces are a common part of our lives, but are they more myth than helpful solution for back aches? There are thousands of stores that sell all types of back braces in all price ranges, but without being examined by a doctor these products will likely not help you. For the patient, it can be a confusing and bewildering onslaught of information. The question arises as to whether they are safe, effective, or necessary.

One older lady was telephoned by a company selling back braces. She had pain in her back for some time, but was unable to find total relief. The salesperson on the phone told her that a back brace would solve all of her problems. After handing over her Medicare numbers, the company sent her a brace that was far too big, bulky, and unnecessary for her strained muscles.It seems almost predatory that these companies would sell to patients who don’t know the particulars of back braces, and the fact that Medicare approved the brace is equally as puzzling. It helps to know the facts about back braces to make an informed choice.

Types of Back Braces

Braces come in two basic types: rigid and elastic. The rigid braces are more commonly used to treat all of the permutations of scoliosis. In some cases, the brace can be used for other conditions. The most common rigid back brace is known as the Boston brace. It uses small pads to push against the ribs and correct the curvature of the vertebrae.

The brace spans from just above the tailbone to just under the shoulder blades. It is worn approximately 23 hours per day, but it is not usually helpful for higher curves. In this case, the rigid Milwaukee brace that rises to the level of the chin is necessary.

The more common type of back brace is the elastic or corset style brace. These braces focus on compressing the abdominal cavity and supporting the motion of the lumbar spine. They have the added benefit of serving as a reminder to use proper lifting techniques. It can also limit motion in the lumbar spine area, and this can help to reduce pain from shifting vertebrae or after spinal surgery. However, the efficacy and usefulness of these braces by the general public is in question.

Conditions for Back Braces

The most common uses for back braces in a medical setting are following spinal fusion surgery and in cases of spondylolisthesis. Somewhat less common is the use of a brace for disc conditions, following disc surgery, or after an acute strain. Of course, the use of braces in scoliosis is well known and well thought of in the medical community. Braces can often reduce the risk of impinging on more nerves, reducing destabilization in the spine, and support the muscles weakened from back conditions or lack of usage.

Other conditions are often considered for back brace usage, but the research into the efficacy of using them in these conditions is still under scrutiny. Acute sprains and strains of the muscles of the spine can sometimes derive benefit from a back brace. They are also helpful following spinal fusion, laminectomy, or discectomy.

Disc herniation and spinal stenosis may respond to a back brace, but the use of them in these cases is controversial. Instability due to trauma, congenital malformation, or fractures usually requires the use of a back brace for a period of time to restore the back to stability. Finally, degenerative disc disease and other diseases of the disc may benefit from a brace that restricts movement.

Should You Wear a Brace?

The common back brace does not work by compressing the back together. On the contrary, its primary purpose is to compress the abdominal muscles to reduce the load on the lumbar spine. This occurs because the viscera of the abdominal are compressed, and the pressure presses against the lumbar spine, reducing movement.

Although these belts are ubiquitous, they do carry a few risks that are not generally spoken of. One risk is that the muscles of the spine will become weakened from the lack of use encouraged by the belt. Another risk is that the pressure on the abdomen increases heart rate and blood pressure, and this can be dangerous for someone with heart disease or vascular problems. Finally, wearing a brace can give you a false sense of security and cause you to lift objects that are too heavy.

In general, if you do not have a problem with you back, you should not wear a back brace. They are superfluous, and the amount of benefit they give to the user has been repeatedly called into question by numerous scientific studies. If you have one of the conditions listed above, a brace may be beneficial, but in either scenario, proper lifting technique is the best way to prevent and treat back conditions. Look, instead, to your form and the ergonomics of your work area before choosing a back brace.

If you have one of the conditions that require back bracing, the professionals at BASIC Spine can guide you towards the correct brace for your problem. From scoliosis to disc herniation, we can help you determine if a back brace is right for you. Contact us today for a consultation.


  • [...] surgery, most patients are able to treat flexion fractures non-surgically. This means that have to you will wear a brace for 6 to 12 weeks and slowly increase your exercise [...]

    • Dudley Moehring
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    • June 6, 2013

    I love your fantastic and non judgemental description of back braces. Just what I was searching for to show my niece so she won't feel self conscious.

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