Did you know that up to 80% of people will suffer from back pain at some point in their lifetime? For the majority of people, the pain will resolve on its own after a short period. For others, the pain can become a constant and chronic condition that affects every aspect of their life. If you’re suffering from mild or moderate lower back pain, though, you do have options. Back braces for lower back pain can help you get the activity you need during a mild and short-term flare-up. With them, you can also prevent future pain issues. Here’s how, plus five of our favorite options.
Why would you need back braces for lower back pain?
Devices for back pain are most often braces that are used to support a healing spine or prevent further injury. These braces can range from larger braces that reach from the middle of the hip to underneath the shoulders to smaller braces that focus solely on the affected area. Back pain can develop and worsen for a number of reasons, including:
- Injury or trauma
- Overuse or stress
- Poor posture
- As a result of another condition, such as disc herniation or arthritis
The following video gives a good overview of how back pain occurs.
How you deal with your back pain will largely come down to its cause. If you’re suffering from a more severe form of back pain that lasts more than five days, it’s important to talk to your doctor as soon as possible. Sharp pain can point to other issues, such as kidney stones or injury. Your doctor may recommend:
- Physical therapy
- Chiropractic care
- Surgery, for severe cases
For many people, however, simple at-home care can help with their back pain. One of the more popular approaches is using back braces for lower back pain. These provide a non-invasive option for treating back pain, but do they work?
Do back braces help lower back pain?
In some cases, back braces for lower back pain can provide pain relief and increase your mobility. They work primarily for subacute pain, that is, pain that has lasted longer than a few days but isn’t yet chronic (defined as pain that lasts for three months or more). A meta-analysis of 28 research studies published in The Annals of Physical Rehabilitation Medicine noted that:
“Lumbar support was effective on function, pain, and relative time intervals for dispensing medication with subacute low back pain. It was also effective with probability of low back pain recurrence in secondary prevention.”
Researchers did note that they’re not for everyone. There’s not enough proof to show their use for acute levels of pain, and when worn for long periods of time, they can actually exacerbate chronic pain. Therefore, always talk to your doctor before trying a back brace for pain.
Benefits of back pain braces:
If they approve a brace for your situation, though, it can help you improve your functioning and reduce pain for short period of times. They’re best used in combination with another therapy, like chiropractic care or physical therapy, which can directly treat the underlying cause of your pain. In a U.S. News article, Scott Bautch, the president of the American Chiropractic Association’s council on occupational health, explains:
“You want to give yourself bracing so you can move. Inactivity or immobilization is the worst thing for a back. You want to remain active, and a brace can help you do that.”
Other potential benefits of back braces for lower back pain include:
- Posture improvements
- Ease of use
Braces also limit your range of motion. This can be helpful for healing, especially in the case of a strain or injury that is causing back pain.
Instructions for use:
Even though back pain braces are simple and easy to use, there are a few risks involved. Most patients will only suffer from minor skin irritation that can be remedied by wearing a thin shirt underneath. The bigger risks come from long-term use. Quality Health explains:
“There’s concern in the medical community that use of back braces long-term may result in atrophy of some muscles that support the spine through lack of use. In other words, the muscles and ligaments that do not have to work due to the support of the brace will weaken. This will demand more and more from the back brace. At some point the brace will not be able to do that much work and an injury may result.”
This is an important risk to be aware of. It’s because of this that most doctors recommend that patients only wear braces for a short period for healing. Use your brace intermittently for several hours a day at most, and for only a few days at a time.
What are other uses for back braces?
Beyond managing subacute pain episodes, back braces can also help with:
- Certain conditions, like scoliosis
- Healing after back surgeries
- Back pain after pregnancy
- Ensuring proper posture at work or while weight-lifting
If you need a back brace after surgery, you should be working closely with your doctor. Post-op braces are typically prescribed by your doctor. They’ll tell you exactly which one you need. These are custom devices that can be significantly more expensive than the ones shown below (but invaluable when it comes to healing!).
For people with a progressive disease of the spine such as scoliosis, braces can slow or sometimes halt the progression of the disease, but they will generally allow the spine to revert to its shape when removed. The more a person wears a prescribed brace, in these cases, the better the result may be.
Other uses for back braces, including weight-lifting, are slightly different in their intent and purpose. Work with a trusted sports therapist or physical trainer to suggest the best one for you. Similarly, women who need a brace after labor or a belly sling during pregnancy should talk to their doctor for recommendations.
What are the best back braces for lower back pain?
If you’ve talked to your doctor and they’ve cleared you to use a back pain brace, there are some great and inexpensive options to choose from. We’ve listed some of the most popular below. Always make sure these fit you correctly, and return them if they don’t fit right. Other websites to find back braces include Better Braces, PhysioRoom, and Braceability’s section on braces for women.