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Do You Need a Back Brace?

When patients are first beginning care for low back pain, an additional solution that they sometimes offer and want my suggestion toward is the use of a back brace. The logic makes sense – if the back hurts in certain movements, brace it up, restrict those movements, and give the back a break from its strains.

There are some situations where, because of the heavy lifting that patient is doing, or the specific injury they have, I am fully on board with that recommendation. But more often than not, I prefer to hold off on back braces. The reason is simple, it can often do more harm than good.

The muscles around the spine have a few different jobs. We get movement in our backs by using those muscles; but we also use those muscles as the support and framework for the spine. So, when the brace is offering that support, it’s essentially taking that job away from the low back muscles. And when used for a long period of time (which is usually the case once someone starts using a back brace), those muscles start to weaken. Those weakened muscles set the stage for even larger back issues, and to have those issues more frequently!

And so the rabbit hole goes down. Back pain, brace, weaker back muscles, more back pain, brace again, weaker back muscles…and on and on and on. Especially if you have chronic long-term back pain, the better solution is to figure out what isn’t functioning right, get it functioning better, and work towards getting things fully self-supported.

- Dr. Scott Minton

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