Woman crouching while wearing a back brace

5 Critical Times To Wear A Back Brace

Many of us have experienced back pain at some point in our lives. The statistics say that lower back pain is the number one cause of missed work days in North America and approximately one third of adults admit that they have experienced this pain at some point in their lives. If you are among this number, it is likely that you may have asked yourself when to wear a back brace to help reduce the risk of back injuries. In this post, we discuss 5 situations when you should consider wearing a back brace to treat or prevent possible back pain.

Wear A Back Brace When You Have Poor Posture

Illustration of good posture on the left and poor posture on the right. Having poor postural habits is one of the most important occasions when you should wear a back brace
Illustration of good posture on the left and bad on the right. Having poor postural habits is one of the most important times when you should wear a back brace

One of the most important situations when you should wear a back brace is if you happen to have poor posture.

Many of us fail to keep our shoulders straight, especially when sitting for long periods. Instead, we tend to hunch our shoulders forward and curve our upper backs. This leaves us without adequate lower back curvature, or a normal lordosis. The result is that most of the weight of the head and upper body is borne by the lower back (or lumbar spine area, which is the area that falls below the rib cage). Over time, the excess strain on the lower back can lead to lower back pain.

As mentioned, the tendency to hunch becomes pronounced after sitting for long periods. As a result, poor postural habits are particularly widespread among those who do jobs that require long periods of sitting. And if we are using computers while sitting, there is an even greater tendency to sit with the upper back curved forward while staring at the screen for long hours.

The back brace to wear in this situation is called a posture brace, or upper back brace. It will gently remind you to keep your shoulders and upper back straight. Maintaining this posture will force a normal curve in the lower back that will help prevent too much of the the weight of the upper body being borne by the lumbar spine. The result will be less lower back pain. Over time, a good posture brace will be a big help in improving your posture. It will teach the habit of maintaining proper posture even when sitting or standing for extended periods.

Wear A Back Support When You Regularly Lift Heavy Loads At Work

Correct and Incorrect Posture to Pick up Heavy Boxes
Correct and Incorrect Posture to Pick up Heavy Boxes. Being regularly required to lift heavy loads is another occasion when you should wear a back brace.

Many people (in construction, household moving and landscaping, for example) regularly have to lift heavy loads as part of their daily activities. If you are in this type of work, it is particularly important to practice proper lifting technique. Try to lift with your legs bent and your back straight. This will place most of the load on the larger muscles of your upper legs (quadriceps and hamstrings) and less on the more vulnerable lower back muscles.

If your job frequently requires heavy lifting, those times when you are on duty should be occasions when you should wear a back brace. A well designed lower back brace or back belt will help by supporting the spine area. It will reduce the forces on your spine while lifting and increase intra-abdominal pressure. The result will be a lower risk of back sprains or strains while lifting. It is important to appreciate that even if you are wearing a back belt, you should nevertheless be careful to maintain proper lifting technique.

This is a proactive way to use a back brace to prevent lower back pain.

Wear A Brace When You Play A Sport That Can Stress Your Back

Many sports involve movements that can stress your lumbar spine area and eventually lead to chronic lower back pain. If you play such a sport regularly, then games or practice sessions can be occasions when you should wear a back brace. As with lifting heavy loads, a well designed back brace will provide support to your lumbar spine and reduce the risk of incurring a chronic back injury.

Sports that can place significant stresses on your spine include (but are by no means limited to):

  • Baseball (being a pitcher can subject your back to high stresses over time);
  • Cricket (bowlers, particularly fast bowlers, frequently break down with back injuries);
  • Weightlifting (lifting extremely high loads can cause back injuries in just the same way as when you are lifting loads at work);
  • Golf (the mechanics of a golf swing can be very demanding on the lower back muscles);
  • Tennis (the tennis serve can subject the back to significant forces and result in injury).

Many lower back braces are low profile and can easily be worn under clothing. They will not interfere with your freedom or range of movement. If you decide that you should wear a back brace when playing the above sports, it may be one of the best investments you can make in your long term back health.

Wear A Back Brace When You Are Pregnant

Being pregnant can place significant stress on the back and hips. As a result, over half of expectant mothers experience hip and back pain. However, maternity belts for pregnant women can make the difference between a difficult pregnancy and a tolerable one. So if you are pregnant and expect that your pregnancy may be a difficult one, this may be another occasion when you should wear a back brace.

Sacroiliac belts provide compression around the lower back area to ease pain in the sacroiliac joint (at the junction of the pelvis and spine) that may be experienced by expectant mothers. This is another type of back brace that you should consider wearing if and when you experience a difficult pregnancy.

Wear A Rigid Back Brace To Relieve Pain From A Herniated Disc or Spinal Stenosis

Back conditions like a herniated disc or spinal stenosis can cause damage to the discs that sit between the vertebrae of the spine. As a result of this damage, the discs can begin to press on the roots of the nerves adjacent to the spine. The result can be back pain as well as radiated pain in other areas such as the buttocks or legs.

A rigid back brace has firm panels that circumvent the torso. These panels can stabilize the spinal discs and prevent them from moving so that they cease pressing on the nerve roots. A rigid back brace can therefore be part of the solution to chronic back pain.

When To Wear A Back Brace- Summary

In this post, we have presented 5 occasions in response to the question of when to wear a back brace for pain relief. However, it is important to be aware of two things:

  • Although a back brace may well be the solution in the circumstances we have identified above, you should check with your doctor to confirm this before getting a back brace. A back brace is not a substitute for professional medical advice. Your doctor can advise whether there are other treatment options (such as physical therapy) that you need to pursue to reduce the pain you may be experiencing;
  • There are many causes of back pain for which a back brace is not a solution. If you are suffering from a herniated disc or spinal stenosis, for example, the solution may require surgical intervention instead of wearing a brace. Your doctor can again advise on the approach to be followed in lieu of wearing a brace.

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