Back Pain – do lumbar support belts work?

Back supports- Do they work?
Back supports- Do they work?

If you get back pain you may have wondered at some point if a lumbar support belt would help. You may need help with a current bout of back pain or be interested in preventing future episodes of back pain. If so, this should help make your mind up.

Back belts are supposed to work by reducing the load on the spine and by improving posture. The forces going through the lumbar spine when you lift can be considerable. Boffins have measured these forces in powerlifters (1) and they peak at 1.7 tonnes of force! There is controversy around whether hard lumbar support belts that weightlifters wear actually help in the performance of their sport (2). In some studies there is actually an increase in low back muscle work during lifting with one of these belts on.

Weight training in a gym or lifting heavy weights in a competition is not the same as lifting around the house or at work. Most of us are not going to lift such weights but lifting heavy loads, especially if the task is repetitive, builds up huge potential damage to the low back. The sort of lumbar support belts available for domestic or work use are made of neoprene or an elastic or non-elastic webbing 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 does it do any good?

The most recent look at preventing back pain using a lumbar support belt is 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 belt 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. Here are some videos that will help get you started.

Advice on preventing recurrent low back pain.

Why do back problems become long term?
1. Lumbar spine loads during the lifting of extremely heavy weights. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1991 Oct;23(10):1179-86. Cholewicki J, McGill SM, Norman RW.
2. The Effects of Lumbosacral Support Belts and Abdominal Muscles Strength on Functional Lifting Ability in Healthy Women. Spine 1996;21: 356-366. Smith, E.B., et al
3. High-quality trials on preventing episodes of back problems: systematic literature review in working-age adults. Spine Journal 2009; 9: 147-168. Bigos SJ, Holland J, Holland C, et al.

Headaches – a pain in the neck

Headaches sketchHeadaches can sometimes be caused by neck problems in disguise. This type of headache is called a cervicogenic headache. Evidence for the best way to treat this type of headache has been lacking – until now.

Cervicogenic headaches may respond well to manipulation, mobilisation and specific exercises a new study shows. This is good news because this type of headache accounts for one in five of all chronic or long-term headache symptoms.

The new headaches study is a review of lots of other studies. Pooling all the results in a so called meta-analysis is a great way to improve the power of individual studies and get some meaningful results. Although the results were not all clear cut in favour of manual therapy the trend seems to indicate that the sort of treatment used by chiropractors is likely to be effective of cervicogenic headaches.

Cervicogenic headaches are caused by muscle spasms or spinal joint problems in the neck. They affect women four times more than men for some reason. They are made worse by poor posture as well as activities that cause your chin to poke forward such using a laptop or a computer screen that is set too low.

Chiropractic treatment for cervicogenic headaches uses gentle adjustments to unlock the stiff spinal joints as well as deep muscle release techniques to improve the underlying causes of the pain. Our physio’s here at Sundial can also prescribe specific exercises after identifying the weak muscles in your neck and shoulders. Laser therapy or acupuncture needles may be used.

If you would like to know if we may be able to help you, give us a call and make an appointment to see us. If you a not sure whether this approach is for you then make an appointment for a check up at no charge. We will tell you whether your headaches are likely to be caused by neck problems and may respond to chiropractic and physio care.

Reference: Conservative physical therapy management for the treatment of cervicogenic headache: A systematic review. Racicki S, Gerwin S, DiClaudio S et al.
Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy 2013; 21(2): 113-24.