Here are some statistics that will send a shiver down your spine. Did you know that each year in the United States, half of the entire workforce will report feeling back pain while on the job? And that an estimated 80% of the population will suffer from a back injury at some point in their lives?
Back injuries are extremely debilitating because they can literally prevent you from moving. You may be put out of commission for weeks. Some back injuries are chronic, meaning the patient experiences the pain for many months, and sometimes years.
It is important, then, to find a good doctor or healthcare provider that can recommend you a properly-fitted back brace that can assist you on the road to recovery. Back braces are cost-effective and can provide short-term relief for lower back pain if worn and used properly.
How Do Back Braces Relieve Back Pain?
When you suffer from a back injury, you need to provide additional support to your spine and muscles. A well-fitted back brace can keep your body in the proper posture relative to your weight and height.
By remaining in an upright posture, you can keep the pressure off of the spinal nerves. If the nerves are aggravated because of an injury such as a herniated disc, then patients may feel pain and discomfort during everyday activities.
Each time a nerve is pinched, patients may experience a sharp pain that starts from their spine and can travel down their leg, causing numbness. When standing or sitting for long periods of time, it is easy to deviate from a neutral posture due to fatigue. This can further aggravate the injury.
By keeping a back brace on when you need it most, you can have peace of mind knowing you have extra support. For example, if you are sitting for long periods of time at a desk job, you can keep the back brace on to prevent hunching over. Back braces can also be worn during intense physical activity, such as exercising, lifting furniture, or other daily activities.
If you are someone who sits for long periods of time, or lift heavy objects frequently at home or at work, then consider using a back brace to prevent injury or to recover from one.
Purpose of a Back Brace
A back brace is designed to restrict the movements of the patient, particularly in the lower spine which is also known as the lumbar spine. You can purchase a back brace online or a doctor may prescribe one to you to address your specific injury.
Limiting one’s movements is essential for the recovery process. If the spine is not held in place after an injury, there is nothing stopping a patient from performing the same movements which injured them in the first place.
In the case of a medical brace for post-operative healing, limiting a patient’s movements will prevent post-operative fusions or fractures. A lumbar support brace ensures that the spine will heal properly, and reduces the discomfort and pain experienced in that area.
Common Types of Back Braces
Upper Back and Shoulder Support
There is not always a singular event or condition that causes back problems, such as a lifting accident or a spinal condition like scoliosis. Sometimes back pain comes from bad posture. If you are slouching all the time, you can suffer from muscle strain as well as lower back and neck pain.
A back brace that supports both your upper back and shoulders can be useful in preventing or treating kyphosis (forward rounding of the shoulders). This is a common issue affecting people who work desk jobs and slump in front of a computer monitor for most of their day.
Depending on the specific issue affecting your back, you may wear this type of brace for an hour a day or more, or whenever you need the support. You can wear it either over or under your clothing, and even while performing physical activities. Upper back braces help you stand straight, making you taller, aligning your spine, and even opening up your airways.
The figure-8 design of the clavicle splint helps retract your shoulder blades together and is excellent for treating kyphosis. It helps you stand and sit with proper posture, and can make you appear taller. Because of its minimal design, this brace can be easily worn under clothing.
Full Back and Shoulder Support
For even more support than upper back braces, full back and shoulder braces typically feature criss-cross shoulder straps to help secure your body into the optimal posture. The brace also fully encompasses the lower back, and may feature a removable lumbar pad. Again, you can wear this lumbar support device over or under your clothing.
Lower Back Support
If you want a minimal device, then a lower back support brace can provide stability while still remaining hidden. It is also ideal for people who deal with the occasional lower back pain or discomfort from sitting for long periods of time. People with jobs where they have to bend down or pick up heavy objects frequently can also really benefit from this brace.
The brace should fit snugly against the natural contour of your back. You may wear it even while exercising or performing any activity that may be taxing on your lower back. Lower back braces typically come with a lumbar support pad, which provides comfort. If you want the brace to be less conspicuous, consider removing the pad so the brace can be hidden under clothing.
These braces are available only with a doctor’s prescription. Medical back braces are typically custom-fitted to your body shape and for your specific condition. They are commonly used to treat scoliosis patients, or patients who need support during post-operative healing.
A patient might also wear a back brace if they suffered a fracture and need to limit their movements for the spine to mend properly. Even though your doctor will select the optimal medical back brace for your condition, you can learn more about them here. Here are some examples of the types of braces used to treat scoliosis:
Wilmington and Boston Brace
These braces are designed like jackets that can be worn beneath clothing. They wrap around the torso from the hips to armpits and are made from lightweight, rigid plastic. The Wilmington brace is bespoke and closes in the front. The Boston brace comes in a variety of sizes with customized pads and closes from the back.
This plastic brace is also custom-fitted and may be used in tandem with the Schroth Method of physical therapy to treat scoliosis.
When braces were first used to treat scoliosis, they used the Milwaukee Brace. Nowadays it is rarely prescribed because of how cumbersome it is to wear compared to modern braces. It involves wrapping plastic around one’s waist and hips, as well as vertical bars that connect to a ring near the neck.
Charleston Bending Brace
This plastic brace is worn at night, and helps treat patients with lower back C-shaped curves.
Back Brace Features
Typically, braces are either soft or rigid. Rigid braces are like an exoskeleton that is fastened using Velcro straps. Soft braces are elastic and allow for slightly more movement. They may also be secured using Velcro straps.
Back braces are made from various materials, such as foam rubber, nylon or cotton with elastic, as well as molded plastic. The optimal back brace must help you brace your spine and also keep it from bending. Each back brace has its own support system, such as straps that you can use to secure it tightly.
How Often Can You Wear a Back Brace?
For common injuries, users are recommended not to wear a back brace for more than two weeks, otherwise they may become dependent on the brace. Medical back braces may be worn for three to eight weeks, or as directed by the physician.
It is very easy to take a healthy back for granted until you are bedridden from a debilitating injury. Even simple tasks like bending down to pick up the newspaper or picking up a toddler can be difficult with a bad back. Ironically, those same activities are some of the ways people have injured their backs.
If you are buying a non-medical back brace, it is important to follow the instructions on how to wear it properly. Each back brace has a different design but one principle should remain constant. All back braces must have a snug fit, otherwise it is not providing the stability your back needs. If you are unsure of how to wear a back brace or which one to get, consult with your doctor.
Non-medical braces should only be worn as needed. Wearing a back brace for too long can result in some side-effects, like skin lesions or muscle atrophy. You may become reliant on the brace for everyday activities even after you’ve recovered from the injury. The intended purpose of the brace is for short-term relief and protection.
In the long run, developing a strong core is what will keep your spine safe. A back brace can provide additional stability but should not be a crutch that you depend on.