Back braces come in many shapes and sizes providing different levels of lumbar (low back) support. Some braces require prescriptions from your doctors. Others can be ordered online or bought at a local stores.
While back braces can be helpful for some injuries, there are pros and cons when using back braces. A back brace functions by providing additional support for the muscles, ligaments, disks and bones of the lower spine.
A supportive low back brace can be useful to use during activities that place a lot of stress on the lower back. People working in physically demanding jobs such as landscaping or warehouse workers may benefit from wearing a brace when having to lift heavy loads. However, using correct lifting techniques and avoiding putting excessive strain on your back is also very important during routine activity.
After spine surgery braces are commonly used to provide extra support in the post-operative period. This can take some of the strain off the muscles and soft tissues during the healing process. Immobilizing the spine with a brace can also assist in bone healing in patients undergoing spinal fusion surgery.
Certain spine fractures are treated by wearing medical grade braces to support the spine while the bones heal. This may require up to 12 weeks of bracing and is one of the few reasons braces are used for such long periods. Compression fractures where the vertebral body is fractured from compressive forces are one type of fracture commonly seen in patients with osteoporosis that are often treated with braces.
Some braces can help people with their posture as well. Most people suffering from acute low back pain have pain due to muscle and ligament injury. Using a back brace for a few days after this type of injury may help with the pain and allow these structures to heal.
However, unless directed by your physician, back braces should not generally be used everyday or for more than a few hours a day. This is because the routine use of a back brace may result in weakening and atrophy of the supporting muscles in the spine. These muscles are critical for a healthy back. A physical therapist, certified personal trainer or yoga instructor can work with you to strengthen and condition your lower back to help prevent lower spine injuries. This approach is more likely to provide relief for patients with the most common type of low back pain due to muscle and ligament strain.