Help or Harm: Do Back Braces Weaken Your Muscles?
If you're among the 80% of Americans that experience back pain, you likely spend a lot of time wondering how to soothe and heal these issues. If you're one of the third of adults for whom back pain impedes everyday activities, this can be even more frustrating. Seeking treatment for pain is a natural next step after identifying the problem, and back braces are one way to treat lower back issues. However, you may be wondering: do back braces weaken muscles?
Expert opinions show that when used correctly, back braces do not weaken muscles. When someone wonders whether their back brace is weakening their spine, they generally have used it inadequately. In fact, properly-prescribed braces strengthen your vertebrae and the surrounding muscles so that you can live each day to the fullest.
What Are Back Braces and How Do They Work?
Back braces are a non-surgical and non-invasive treatment for back pain. Many people choose to use them because they are inexpensive and easy to use for longer intervals. They also are comparatively painless in comparison to surgeries, which is especially appealing to people with less severe discomfort.
The main objective of back brace use is to reduce lower back pain and muscle tension by improving posture. Poor posture is one of the leading causes of back pain, so this is especially important.
Essentially, wearing them at regular intervals each day redistributes the weight in your spine appropriately and trains it to remain in a stronger position. It also helps to provide a healing environment for spinal issues like osteoporosis, arthritis, and scoliosis.
For many people, back braces are not simply soothing- they're a way to prevent back problems from spiraling out of control in the future. Essentially, they're a preventative measure in addition to being one with current benefits. They reduce the motion between segments of your spine and stop your nerves and joints from becoming irritated.
Some people also use back braces if their issue was severe enough that they needed to undergo surgery. In these cases, the brace will reduce the range of your motion while healing so you don't accidentally pull your muscles into a painful position. It protects your back from twisting and bending, which can cause tearing and weakening of muscles surrounding the spine.
Is It OK to Wear a Back Brace All the Time?
You absolutely should not wear a back brace all the time. Generally, they are only intended to be worn for about 2 hours each day. This is the case if you are wearing a brace for mild pain or discomfort since you are trying to strengthen your back slowly.
However, for those with select injuries, people may be required to wear a brace for many more hours than this. Some patients have been told to wear their braces post-surgery or post-injury for up to 23 hours a day. In these situations, however, braces should never be worn longer than 2 weeks. Usually, this is too long, so talking to a doctor is imperative.
Scott Bautch, a professional chiropractor that works with those with lower back pain, elaborates on this. “Longer than [2 weeks], and your muscles start to adapt and get accustomed to the brace, which means they can lose strength, which can lead to more injuries."
What Conditions Necessitate Back Braces?
There are many conditions that require back braces. The most common include:
- Muscular atrophy
- Spinal tumors
- Spinal fractures
- Whiplash (after motor accidents)
- Spinal cord injuries
You may also need a brace simply because you have poor posture. In these scenarios, the brace is preventative.
How to Use a Back Brace
It is important to note that you should talk to a specialist before wearing a back brace. Everyone's back is different, and while wearing a brace is a healing miracle for some, it can cause long-term issues for others. Make sure that you use the brace as prescribed so you don't end up causing new spinal issues or worsening existing ones.
You also must wear a shirt beneath the brace. If you neglect to do so, the brace will cause skin irritation.
Once you know how often and how tightly to wear your back brace, the only thing left is to put it on your body. Wrap the brace around your back with the wings against each side of your torso. Note that the wings will need to attach at the front, so you should have the solid strip part of the brace against your lower back.
This can be difficult for some people, so you may want to ask someone to help you if you are struggling. You don't want to strain your back while putting on the brace, after all. If no partner is present, you can also place the brace on a chair with the wings open so that the flaps are in the correct position when you sit down.
Once the brace is on, connect the wings/ends of the brace across your abdomen. Secure it to the prescribed tightness. Adjustments can be made on the brace by pulling the tabs on either side of it.
Do Back Braces Weaken Muscles?
As we brushed on earlier, back braces usually do not weaken muscles- they greatly strengthen them. Some people have noted that their backs have weakened after wearing back braces, but this is usually because they were not used correctly.
However, the intention of a back brace is to remove support from vital areas of your back, which means that your spine can become reliant on your brace. Make sure that the spine, intervertebral discs, and vertebrae do not become damaged by using the brace appropriately.
It's critical that you talk to a medical professional about your specific spine and conditions so that you can get insight into how to wear your brace properly. After all, your needs will be different from those of some random stranger on the internet. It's also essential that you wear your brace at an appropriate tightness and during activities that require its use. Some people may need braces while sitting while others may need them for exercise.
Back braces only will weaken muscles for a couple of completely avoidable reasons. The first is that you wear them for long intervals and cause your back to become reliant on the brace, which makes it weak when the brace is removed. The other is that you have purchased a poor-quality brace that either strains muscles and bones or provides inadequate support.
What Types Strengthen Muscles Best?
You can avoid weakening muscles by selecting a high-quality brace that has been proven to succeed.
A lumbar support belt is usually the best type of back brace for most conditions. These belts restrict micromovement while at work, at home, or while exercising. Since they're made of lightweight material, they also do not apply pressure where pressure is not necessary. This makes it more comfortable and reduces the risk of muscle weakness.
Unlike other braces, lumbar support belts conform to your body's shape. This provides spinal stability and prevents you from overstretching your muscles.
You can also purchase orthopedic lumbar support belts and medical back braces with lumbar support. Do your research and talk to an expert to see which is the best option for your needs.
Additionally, make sure that you select the right size for your brace. No matter what type of back brace you are prescribed, you must ask your prescriber to measure you for one that fits correctly. A brace that is too large will be ineffective, while one that is too small can press too tightly on your spine and muscles and make your posture worse.
What Alternatives Are There to Back Braces?
A back brace is an excellent way to support your back during the hours that you wear it, but what about the hours that you need to take a break? There are other alternatives to reduce back pain during these times. Most of these alternatives are holistic, so there is no need to worry about addiction to pain pills or side effects from medication.
These alternatives are intended to give your back time to recuperate and strengthen after you take your back brace off, which allows your spine to become more self-sufficient and sturdy.
Decompression Back Belts
Unlike lumbar support braces, decompression back belts are inflatable. They use traction to limit the pressure placed on specific discs in your spine. Basically, it uses air to place pressure on the areas of the lower back hat most need it.
This makes them perfect for those who only need support for specific areas of the back, which is critical since placing pressure in unnecessary locations can be uncomfortable and weaken the healthy areas. An inflatable traction belt is meant to limit spinal disc pressure and provide immediate relief as well as the long-term strengthening of the spine.
There are three major advantages to these support tools:
- They stretch tight lower back muscles to relieve stiffness and current pain in the area
- They lift the weight from the upper body away from the lower back, which decompresses the spinal discs and lower back joints
- Like lumbar support braces, they strengthen ligaments and improve posture
Decompression belts are meant for immediate relief and for recovering from lower back trauma. They also can provide support at times when lumbar support braces should be removed. Your doctor can inform you of what times a decompression belt can help you.
Unlike lumbar support braces and decompression back belts, heating pads do not always necessitate a prescription. There are situations in which one may be prescribed, including post-trauma. However, those experiencing pain can rely on a heating pad for immediate relief no matter whether they are prescribed a back brace or not.
Heat is soothing to pain and injuries- that's why so many people take hot baths when they are experiencing muscle cramps. However, a heating pad provides benefits that a bath cannot. For one thing, it can be used for longer intervals than you can healthily remain in the tub, which allows for more pain relief.
However, heating pads also are healing in addition to being soothing. They boost the circulation of blood through your back and allow more oxygen to enter into your joints. This ultimately boosts healing and encourages the repair of damaged muscles.
Heating pads are also the perfect way to provide immediate pain relief without relying too much on your back brace. Heating pads do not place pressure on your back in a way that can lead to dependency, which makes them perfect for the many hours of the day that you shouldn't be wearing your prescribed brace.
Reduce Your Back Pain Today
So, do back braces weaken muscles?
The short answer is 'no.' Back braces, when used correctly, do not cause muscle weakness and in fact strengthen your spine in a wide variety of ways. They can treat a multitude of conditions in a healthy and holistic way, which is beneficial to those with both trauma-based injuries and long-term chronic back problems.
Now that you know all about back braces and how they strengthen your lower back, it's time to get more information on effective treatment. Contact us for more information on the products and services that we offer. We look forward to helping you with any and all back-related concerns and will get back to you within 48 business hours.