Pros and Cons of Using a Back Brace
As many as 4 out of 5 people in the United States will experience back pain at least once in their lives, according to the Mayo Clinic. Furthermore, back pain is one of the most common reasons why people go to the doctor or miss work. For some, turning to the use of a back brace is their treatment of choice. But can wearing a back brace truly help back pain?
While back pain most often occurs from strained muscles and ligaments, from improper or heavy lifting, or after a sudden awkward movement, it also can be caused from structural problems such as bulging or ruptured disks, sciatica, arthritis, osteoporosis, and scoliosis--not to mention stress-induced back pain.
Studies show that the most common reasons people use a back brace are: onset of acute low back pain, chronic low back pain, post surgery, and to prevent progression of adolescent scoliosis.
It is important to note that a back brace used after a back surgery and for scoliosis is different than a back brace used for acute low back pain and chronic low back pain. Post-surgery braces and back braces for scoliosis are typically ordered by a surgeon or physical therapist and molded to a patient with heat-treated plastic. These braces are intended to provide widespread spine stabilization.
The types of back braces that most individuals with lower back pain use are those made of neoprene that you can find at your local pharmacy or sporting goods store.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there's insufficient evidence that these kind of back braces are more effective at fully relieving back pain; however, there have been reported benefits.
The Pros of Using a Back Brace
1. Braces used immediately after surgery can be helpful for spine stabilization.
2. Lumbar support braces (the back braces that you can buy at the pharmacy or sporting goods store) can be helpful after in an initial low back injury by limiting movement of the spine in the low back area. The limited movement can allow some back injuries to heal by relieving excessive demand placed on the specific joints of that spinal area.
3. Some users of back braces report that the braces support their abdomen, improve their posture and take some of the load off of their lower back.
4. Back braces can make transitional movements (such as from a sitting to a standing position) more comfortable during an episode of back pain.
5. If you have a labor-intensive job that places stress on your lower back, a back brace can help you when you first return to work after a back injury by avoiding too much strain on your spine.
The Cons of Using a Back Brace
1. There's concern in the medical community that use of back braces long-term may result in atrophy of some muscles that support the spine through lack of use. In other words, the muscles and ligaments that do not have to work due to the support of the brace will weaken. This will demand more and more from the back brace. At some point the brace will not be able to do that much work and an injury may result.
2. When you wear a lumbar support brace, the demand removed from one area of your back may be transmitted to another area nearby, and result in either pain or later injury.
3. Since muscles and ligaments weaken over time with the use of a back brace, the spine becomes vulnerable when the brace is not being worn. The spine then is at at a higher risk of injury than it would have been had the brace not been used.
4. In adolescents with scoliosis, back braces are used to prevent progression of the spinal curvature. However, research has not conclusively proven the benefits of braces of scoliosis. Some young people who don't wear a brace don't have any problems and their curves never worsen. Others wear a back brace for years, and they still end up needing back surgery.
The use of a back brace can be helpful for some people for a short period of time. But using a brace long-term or for preventative reasons may land you in a situation that you were trying to avoid. If you use a brace, limit the use to intermittently several hours a day.
The following is a list of measures you can take to prevent the possibility of back pain in your life.
Bernhard, B. Study looks at whether back braces offer benefit to scoliosis. STLtoday.com. November 11, 2009. http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/lifestyle/stories.nsf/healthfitness/story/E702CC56C3A5FC288625766B00742437?OpenDocument. Accessed January 2, 2010.
Gordon, J. Uses of a Back Brace. PureHealthMD. http://www.purehealthmd.com/fitness/injury-/management/uses-of-a-back-brace.html. Accessed January 2, 2010.
Mayo Clinic Staff. Back Pain, Information Page. MayoClinic.com. http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/back-pain/DS00171. Accessed January 2, 2010.
Mayo Clinic Staff. Non-invasive treatments for back pain. MayoClinic.com.http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/back-pain-treatment/BA99999/PAGE=BA00008. Accessed January 2, 2010.
Stanford, F.C. Smart Shopping for Back Braces. Livestrong.com. Novv. 8, 2009. http://www.livestrong.com/article/150-smart-shopping-back-braces. Accessed January 2, 2010.
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