Does a Back Support Belt
Prevent Lifting Injuries

You have seen those back support belts on construction workers, factory workers, and employees of building supply stores. Maybe you are using one yourself at work or have been prescribed a lumbar or low back support.

Many companies make wearing a back support belt mandatory. Their purpose is to help prevent lower back injuries or aid in healing. But... they really prevent lifting injuries or help the injured muscles and joints heal?

How Back Supports May Be of Benefit

The best they can do with respect to preventing low back injury is that by wearing them you are reminded to lift properly. The back support belt has nothing to do with prevention directly. The belt merely makes you more consciously aware that you need to be careful lifting and perhaps it cues you to use proper lifting form and technique.

Not only do back belts not directly prevent lower back lifting injuries, they may even be harmful in the long term and end up causing lower back injuries. How?

The Dangers of a Back Support Belt

Here are a couple of ways using a back belts or lumbar back supports may be harmful:

  1. You believe it can prevent low back injury so you therefore attempt to lift something that you would normally not even attempt to lift in the first place.
  2. The belt becomes more of a crutch. Now you not only don't lift a heavy object that you have the strength to lift, you avoid lifting everything that you falsely believe is too heavy. Over time your back becomes weaker and weaker because your back is not being challenged to lift. It's the old adage, “use it or lose.” This is much the same as putting your arm in a sling or cast for 4-6 weeks. Your arm muscles, bones, and joints have atrophied or degenerated due to disuse. Until you regenerate or rebuild those muscles, bones, and joints you are more susceptible to further injury.

Throw Away Those
Harmful Back Supports

In my 35 years of practice I never recommended lifting belts of any kind. I even discontinued using those orthopedic supports often prescribed for lower back pain sufferers in the course of their care and treatment.

What needs to be done is that all back support belts and lumbar supports should be avoided most of the time. There are rare cases where a back belt or lumbar support may be of some benefit. This is usually immediately following an injury or what is known as the acute stage. It may be helpful to immobilize the injured area for about three days to prevent any further tearing and allow scar tissue to begin forming. After about 3 days back belts or lumbar supports should be avoided The exception would be for a few weeks following an injury as the damaged tissue continue to heal if you will be performing heavier lifting or twisting and turning while lifting  

The best way to prevent lower back injury is by conditioning and strengthening your entire body with a regular routine of exercise. Targeting just the lower back is foolish and minimally effective. More often than not a lower back injury is just the inevitable consequence of an already weakened, damaged, or degenerated lower back and overall body.

Some Effective Ways
To Prevent Back Injuries

The only way to help prevent lower back injury on the job is to:

  • reward or give incentives for engaging in off the job fitness routines,
  • give bonuses or rewards for no work lost time due to work related injuries,
  • teach and train proper lifting technique.

As long as there is some reward or compensation for injury and illness there will be more work injuries and more sick leave. Make it less rewarding to be ill and injured and more rewarding to be healthy and injury free.

Sadly some employees will claim a work injury when in fact the injury occurred off the job. By rewarding fraudulent or non-work related injuries and paying for sick leave the system is just encouraging more injuries, more sick leave, more unfitness, and poor health.

Yes. I believe in work injury compensation. However, I have witnessed too many cases of fraudulent on the job injuries. In the long term, all parties involved (employer, employee, and insurance company) are best served with fitness promotion and proper lifting guidelines and technique.

Teach proper work lifting skills. Teach employees to know how to lift properly and, more importantly teach when not to lift. Then train them to do it with proper lifting demonstrations and train them to exercise to improve strength and fitness.

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