Approximately 80% of Americans will experience back pain at some point in their lives. With a condition as prominent as this, determining an effective method of pain relief is crucial. Medication and physical therapy are both common defaults, but is there any credence to back braces for pain relief?
The use of a back brace may be helpful in many cases. Following surgery or an injury, a back brace meant to stabilize may prevent excessive or unnatural movement, protecting against further injury or complications. In a similar vein, these braces may encourage proper posture, which in the long run has great potential to ease pain and prevent further complication. A stabilizing brace may prevent odd movements while moving from a standing to sitting position, or vice versa, creating more strain on the back. If a patient is returning to work at a physically intensive job following surgery or injury, a brace may provide relief and prevent injury. While all of these are great, there are also negative aspects of the use of back braces.
The primary concern that many in the medical community have about back braces is the potential for atrophied muscles. A patient’s body may become reliant on the brace to provide the stability that the patient’s own muscles would ordinarily provide. When these muscles are not used, they may weaken over time. As these muscles weaken, the pain actually tends to become more severe when the brace is not in use, creating further dependence on the brace. As this vicious cycle continues, the muscular problems may become so severe that the brace may no longer be capable of providing the support needed, causing further injury. Another potential con of the use of a back brace is that while one area of the back is stabilized, the patient may try to compensate by misusing a different part of their body. For instance, if a patient is wearing a lumbar support brace, he may bend too much with his thoracic area, shifting the pain from the lower back to the mid back.
The use of a back brace should be done in consultation with a doctor, and typically for only short periods of time. Your doctor can direct you in appropriate pain relief methods and additional treatment as needed.