Back Belts and Corsets

Back belts and corsets are sometimes used for back pain patients, with the idea that the added support to the lumbar spine will prevent any injuries from getting any worse. Back belts are also believed by many people to prevent injuries from occurring for several reasons. There are many proponents of these types of products and there are many skeptics as well. It is interesting that back belts continue to become more popular even as more and more studies keep coming out, saying that they are of doubtful benefit.

Let's take a look at where and when back belts and corsets are used, and what purposes they are used for.

Back belts are thought to prevent lumbar strain and lower back pain injuries in those people who lift heavy weights at the gym as well as in industrial type occupations. One of the ideas is that these belts make us use proper lifting techniques so that we are forced to use our arms and legs to lift objects rather than our lower backs. These belts remind us to use proper lifting techniques as we lift heavy objects and turn our bodies to transfer or carry them from one place to another. These belts increase intra-abdominal pressure (IAP) which counters the forces that are placed on the other side of the spine (our lower backs). Back belts stiffen the spine and keep it straight, so that we don't slouch forward out of the neutral position. These belts restrict bending motions, so that we no longer are able to lift with our backs.



There is no scientific evidence that back belts do any of these things. Yet they remain popular enough that employers buy them and offer them to their employees to use, so that they run a lower risk of workplace injuries. You will see them being used at most occupations that involving heavy lifting and carrying. There is little scientific support for such claims as increasing IAP, and even if they did, there is no proof that these factors actually lead to injury prevention.

Yet these back belts continue to become more and more popular. When you go the gym, it is likely that you will see weight lifters using back belts while working at the squat rack lifting a heavy bar across their legs. Squats are a weight lifting exercise designed to develop the quad and leg muscles. The belts that weight lifters use are typically a thick, eight-inch leather belt with its widest part going across the small of the back. These belts buckle in the front and secure just above the top of the buttocks.

Weight-lifters were so confident in the support that these belts provided that they continued to use them. Soon, all sorts of people who had to regularly lift heavy weights began to use them. Today, you see them on factory workers , luggage handlers, grocery store clerks, and movers all over the place. The consensus among the back experts who believe in these types of devices is that they increase intra-abdominal pressure (IAP). This IAP surge is thought to enable someone to lift more weight over a longer period with less strain.

Skeptics point out numerous studies pointing out the fact that there is no proof that these products reduce lumbar strain. On the contrary, there is some evidence that these belts, when worn regularly, may actually decrease abdominal muscle strength, which increases the risk of lower back pain injury.

People for and against agree that these belts do remind the users to be aware of the risk of injury, to use proper lifting techniques, and to not lift things that are too heavy. So in that sense, these belts may be a more expensive version of tying a string around one's finger. But if this ever present reminder does serve its purpose in preventing injuries, does it really matter how it works?

Skeptical and responsible doctors alike caution people against wearing these belts too often, due to the danger of core muscle strength loss through habitual use. The Texas Back Institute (www.texasback.com) said that these belts do work in preventing workplace injuries when patients also regularly exercise as well.

One research team attended back schools that employed back belts, corsets, and body mechanics training. This research team observed each of the treatment tools individually and together to see which combinations worked best to create backs that were resistant to muscle strain. Back exercises were discovered to be the most important factor towards preventing back injuries.