A back brace (also known by the slightly more complicated name lumbosacral orthosis) is a medical device used as a part of the management of various conditions affecting the lower spine. It is used to provide support to the spine and limit its range of motion especially after spinal surgery, back injury, or to slow down the progression of certain chronic conditions. Let’s take a look at the use, advantages, and myths surrounding the use of a back brace
What Are the Different Types of Back Braces?
There are numerous types of back braces out there, such as the chairback back brace, flexion type back brace, hyperextension type back brace, scoliosis type back brace, sacro-iliac belt, lumbo-sacral corset supports, and so on. Each was uniquely designed for a specific purpose or medical condition. However, back braces are generally classified as rigid, semi-rigid, and flexible braces.
How Does a Back Brace Work?
Back braces perform several important functions which help speed up healing and prevent further injury to the lower spine. Some key examples include:
Reducing the amount of weight placed on the lower back. The spine and lower back muscles carry a significant amount of weight. A back brace supports some of this weight, thereby reducing the pressure placed on the muscles, joints, and discs of the lower spine. This reduces pain, promotes healing, and prevents further injury to the lower back.
Limiting the range of motion of the spine. Resting a joint and restricting its range of motion after an injury is an improved component of healing. Back braces prevent the wearer from making excessive bending or twisting motions which may cause pain and further aggravate the injury.
Providing stability to the injured structure. Injured joints require stability to heal properly. When used correctly a back brace forces the wearer to maintain a natural, static and stable posture which prevents the injured structures from healing abnormally, a possible complication that may lead to permanent disfigurement.
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Conditions Where Back Braces Are Useful
Back braces are commonly used for a wide range of conditions involving the joints and muscles of the lower back. Here are a few common conditions where you might require a back brace.
As a temporary support for acute sprains and strains. Sprains (overstretching or tearing a ligament) and strains (overstretching or tearing a muscle or tendon) require a stable, motion-free environment to promote healing and reduce pain.
To speed up post-operative healing. Back braces provide stability to the spine and prevent further damage to the spine after spinal surgeries such as a spondylodesis (surgical fusion of two or more vertebrae), laminectomy (surgical removal of part of the vertebrae), discectomy (surgical removal of the whole or a part of the vertebral disc).
In the management of spinal stenosis. Spinal stenosis is a medical condition in which the spinal canal is abnormally narrowed. This may lead to injury to the nerves which leave the vertebral column and can be quite painful if left untreated.
As a part of the management of postural backache. Although the use of back braces for lower back pain is somewhat controversial, some authorities claiming it may lead to atrophy of the core muscles. However, back braces are only a temporary solution and should be worn as instructed by the doctor. Commonly it is only worn for a few hours each day in the case of postural back pain and is not intended to be a permanent solution.
In the management of degenerative joint diseases. Back braces are an integral part of slowing the progression of chronic degenerative diseases of the spine such as osteoarthritis and degenerative disc disease. They provide stability and support which prevents micro-motions between the joints and reduces pain.
To provide temporary stabilization for injuries to the vertebral column. Back braces are commonly used to provide support in a wide range of injuries to the vertebral column such as disc herniation, isthmic spondylolisthesis, spondylolysis, vertebral compression, and other types of fractures. It provides a stable environment that prevents further aggravation of the injury and reduces the risk of permanent damage to the spine. When germs or toxins enter the body, they trigger a response, and white blood cells attack the unwanted invader. Other elements of the body's immunity are also triggered into action. These act together to fend off the attack and prevent further damage to the body.
Myths Surrounding the Use of Back Braces
Despite the numerous benefits associated with the use of back braces several individuals still remain doubtful of their usefulness. This skepticism stems from several common misconceptions associated with the use of back braces. Therefore, let’s clear the air on several common myths surrounding the use of back braces.
They weaken the abdominal muscles
This is probably the more prevalent misconception. While the idea that taking some weight off your abdominal muscles (also known as your core) may lead to muscle weakening and even atrophy, no evidence supports this. In fact, by reducing pain, promoting proper posture, and encouraging activity a back brace may actually do the exact opposite by strengthening your core muscles.
It can cause poor body mechanics
The idea that a back brace may cause poor body mechanics is simply preposterous unless the brace is worn incorrectly. When properly applied a back brace helps maintain proper posture and encourages more efficient movements. Combined with the various strengthening exercises most orthopedists and physiotherapists prescribe as part of the management, you’re more likely to develop better body mechanics than before you started using the back brace.
They should be stopped as soon as possible
While there is a bit of truth to this, I think a better way to phrase it would be “back braces should be stopped as soon as recommended by your doctor”. Getting rid of the brace too soon may cause more harm than good. It may lead to pain, recurrence of the original injury, and may even worsen the condition. It’s best to stick to your doctor’s advice when it comes to when you’re ready to get rid of the back brace. In that same vein, wearing the brace longer than advised by your doctor can also lead to several issues as well. So to be on the safe side, stick to your doctor’s advice.
The Bottom Line
Back braces are an important part of the management of various lower back conditions. They provide numerous advantages when used correctly and should be used as directed by your doctor. The myths surrounding their use are largely untrue and have been debunked by several medical studies.
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