man holding his lower back in pain

Selecting a back brace

Back braces are extremely useful for two groups of people: those who, due to injury or disease, cannot maintain proper posture for sufficiently long periods of time to allow the safe performance of certain activities; and those who are hoping to avoid injury or re-injury during certain activities.

Back braces fall into two general groups, lumbar support braces and lumbar-sacral support braces. Braces can range from stiff and completely inflexible (which are good for people who need strong postural support due to recent back surgery or ongoing disc problems) to soft, highly flexible supports. Braces provide less support as they become more flexible, but a brace that allows for some flexion may be a better choice than a completely stiff brace for athletes recovering from a minor back injury, or for individuals engaging in a risky activity (such as lifting heavy weights) who are hoping to avoid injury.

The extremely rigid braces act by partially immobilizing the spine, thus preventing the wearer from engaging in potentially risky motions. The more flexible braces seem to act less as an actual support and more as a reminder to use correct body mechanics to avoid injury or to avoid certain motions that may aggravate the original injury. In either case, there are risks to excessive use of a back brace- the lumbar muscles may become weak if the brace is used too much. Physical therapists usually suggest use of back braces only during particular activities, and often suggest the user engage in concurrent physical therapy in order to strengthen the back with the eventual goal of not needing the back brace for any activity.

Braces intended to provide support only during heavy lifting usually come with suspenders that allow the brace to be engaged only when lifting. This type of brace should wrap tightly around the lumbar area just above the hipbones, and acts primarily by forcing the wearer to lift with the legs, not the back. When selecting back braces to provide support during other types of activities, the severity of the injury and the activity need to be considered. If possible, the prospective back brace should be tried out while performing the activity before purchasing.

Other factors to consider when selecting a back brace are the bulkiness of the brace, and whether it is intended to be worn under or over clothing. The breathability of the material, and ease of cleaning, should also be considered by persons who intend to wear the brace during intense physical activity.

Persons with severe back injuries or diseases should consult their physician before using a back brace.

Mueller Sports Medicine has a full selection of back braces designed for a wide variety of purposes.