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.
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.