Guide to Low Back Braces

by Christina Lasich, MD Health Professional

So you want to try wearing a low back brace for that pesky low back pain? Here is a basic guideline for picking the right one and using it correctly. Most people view back braces to be completely harmless; but, that is not necessarily true. The worst that can happen to you is that you will become more and more dependent on it the longer you use it. This type of back-brace dependency causes the pain to get worse not better. Follow this guideline to avoid problems with using a lumbosacral orthosis.

Picking out the right brace for you is best done when consulting with your doctor, physical therapist, and/or local orthotist. The doctor and the physical therapist understand the diagnosis and the orthotist knows the products he/she carries in the brace shop. In general, you will want one that has three basic features: easily adjustable tightening system, comfortable materials and profile, and removable rigid panels. Let’s break it down:

  • A tightening system lets you control how much compression forces will be applied to the spine.

  • Comfortable material allows for breathability. A low profile that fits your size allows for comfort especially for short-torso individuals.

  • Rigid panels allow for maximum support when you need it and removable when you don’t.

Hopefully, your health care professional will give you guidelines about when to use this back brace. Usually, there are four specific times when it works the best.

  • As a safety reminder when lifting or working, the safety belts are best for this type of use.

  • As an extra support for heavy work activities like raking, doing laundry, and washing the car.

  • As a pain reliever for acute flare up’s and only for a limited amount of time.

  • As a support after spine surgery to allow for healing.

If, on the other hand, you have been using your brace all the time, you are likely dependent on it. In fact, when you take it off, your pain probably gets worse. If this describes what you experience, then you will need to gradually wean from using it by following this guideline for taking the brace off.

  • Take it off for 20 minutes at a time initially, and then gradually increase that time week by week.

  • Take it off only once per day to start, and then gradually increase to twice and three times daily.

  • Take it off for smaller tasks once tolerating having it off while sedentary; starting with things such as unloading the dishwasher, making the bed, and cooking dinner.

Back braces do offer a mixed bag of benefits and risks. However, when used properly and fitted properly for the right reasons, they can relieve your pain and get you mobile more quickly than without one.

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Christina Lasich, MD
Meet Our Writer
Christina Lasich, MD

Christina Lasich, M.D., wrote about chronic pain and osteoarthritis for HealthCentral. She is physiatrist in Grass Valley, California. She specializes in pain management and spine rehabilitation.