Although back supports are designed to alleviate pain and prevent or heal back injuries, there are both pros and cons to all medical treatments and devices. Back braces and supports are not ideal for all situations, and so it is important to understand what situations they are appropriate for, and why. Self-diagnosis is not an intelligent way to determine the need for a back brace, as only a trained and licensed physician should make such a distinction. This is especially true when it is considered that there are more than 30 primary types of back braces, each serving different purposes. The wrong back brace or back support could cause more harm than healing, especially if worn improperly as well.
There are a variety of reasons for using spinal bracing or back supports. They are used to control pain, to prevent further injury, to promote healing of the spine, to compensate for weakness in the muscle and to address deformities. Spinal bracing can either prevent deformities or correct them when worn properly. Some spinal braces, like lumbar braces and corsets can work to compress the wearer’s abdomen, increasing what is known as intra-abdominal pressure. In doing this, pressure normally placed on the vertebral column is unloaded, and relief is provided to the wearer as a result.
There are a variety of other reasons why it might benefit a patient to use back supports. For example, spinal bracing can help to insulate the skin, and this produces an increase in warmth that can in turn decrease pain sensation. The increased abdominal pressure that they provide is also capable of providing the wearer’s back with hydraulic support. The decrease in the back’s range of motion can relieve pain that is caused by stress caused to the pain generators and receptors located in and around the back. For each of these reasons, the right back support can be beneficial.
Just as there are numerous benefits to the use of back supports and braces, there are also potential drawbacks that must be considered. The effects of bracing may primarily be positive, but wearing a back support for a prolonged period of time may lead to a loss of function in some muscles, primarily due to inactivity. Bracing can also provide other issues, including quality of life concerns among wearers that cannot sit or stand without discomfort, or who cannot complete certain day-to-day tasks because the brace limits their natural range of motion.