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Back supports/braces good or bad?

This is a question I get asked a lot in clinic and I can fully understand why initially patients believe they will benefit from wearing one. So, I am going to explain why most of the time I think you’re better off without them.

So what are they? 

Supports or braces have been around for a while and are marketed to provide you with pain relief and postural correction by holding you in a position that is biomechanically more favourable. They where first made popular by weightlifters who need more intra-abdominal pressure than the muscles can naturally provide, in order to move the huge amounts of weight (but this is another topic for another day).

I personal don’t agree with the use of supports/braces for the vast majority of the population and here’s the reason why.

One of the reasons you are in pain and need the support in the first place is because the muscles that the support is replacing are weak. When you then put a support on, you give those muscles even less reason to do their job and so they atrophy (waste away) even more, which will only add to your problems until you are wearing the brace full time.

Certain cultures perform a similar example as seen here; 

In fact, depending on how long this lady has had these rings around her neck (sometimes it can be most of their life), if she ever removed them she would very possibly die without support, as her neck muscles would have wasted away so much and become so weak they wouldn’t support her head anymore.

Now I know that’s an extreme example but it shows the fact that if you don’t use it you loose it!

I mentioned earlier I don’t agree to the vast majority of the population using them, so who do I think will benefit?

  • Weight lifters - who have extremely conditioned abdominal control but still not enough to provide the lumbar spine with the support it needs to hold a weight during a movement, such as the squat or deadlift.

  • Patients who are in the acute phase (0-48 hours) of pain - because the local muscles often spasm and tighten up to try and add support to the injury but this can sometimes cause even more discomfort and pain, so the support may help reduce the pain during this phase.


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