Question from a Reader: What Do You Think of Back Braces?
Posted Aug 27 2008 8:19am
A reader writes: " What do you think of back braces? Which kind, if any, really help?"
There are two main types of braces for the lower back: external and internal. An external brace is one you wear and the one that most people think of when they hear the word "brace". An internal brace is the one produced by tightening of certain muscles that surround the spine and of the two, the most important one. Today, I'll explain the external kind of brace.
An external back brace can help you feel better and may facilitate healing an injury but I know of no proof that one brace is better than another or even that a back brace, as a treatment, is better than some other treatment (it's just better than no treatment). So, it comes down to what feels good to you, ease of use, and price.
During my recovery, I wore a System-Loc brace. The manufacturer claims it provides "hydrostatic lift" - lifting the weight of the abdominal region off the spine and that this is why you feel less pain. I doubt this actually happens since the force due to gravity has not been altered - the "weight" on your spine is the same in or out of the brace. So, why did I wear it? The brace is the tightest fitting brace I am aware of which does two things: makes bending or twisting nearly impossible and slams my brain with all sorts of sensory input (pressure, touch, rubbing, etc). The sensory input competes for attention with the pain impulses and since the brain can only pay attention to one thing at a time, I feel better in the brace.
Most external braces though really don't restrict your motion much. They're made of elastic material and Velcro. You wrap it around your abdomen as tightly as you can but you can still move quite a bit. It's possible that having the brace on, along with the sensory input, alters your movement which then reduces stress and strain on the spine. The result is you feel better.
If you choose to wear a brace, wear it intermittently and have a plan to get out of it completely. Wearing a brace too often and for too long can weaken tissues such as muscle, tendon, disc, and ligament. And, as soon as possible, start working on your internal brace. This is a brace you "wear" forever and I'll explain that next time.