Back belts and supports

Do back belts prevent injury?
The answer to this question is complex. While back belts do indeed provide additional support to the lower back during heavy or strenuous tasks (such as lifting), they do not eliminate the risk exposure. Many people who wear a back belt misunderstand the protection a back belt offers. It is common practice for individuals who wear back belts to lift heavier items that they would not normally consider lifting. This false sense of protection may actually result in an increased risk of injury.

Do back belts weaken your core muscles?
Back belts act as an external stabilizer for your back during strenuous activities. Abdominal and core muscles, when engaged, act as an internal stabilizer for the low back, reducing the risk of injury when lifting. When back belts are worn properly (tightened only during the strenuous part of an activity), the chances of the belt weakening your core muscles are minimal. Studies have shown that the use of back belts can result in reduce back muscle activity. It is possible that prolonged use of a belt can cause weakening of the lifting structures of the back, however additional research is necessary.

Do back belts improve posture and body mechanics?
A simple answer is "It depends on the back support." Most back belts and supports have no effect on lumbar motion or posture. Some of the more rigid belts (especially those with the contoured lumbar insert) can alter movement patterns, improving lower back postures and body mechanics. Be warned, however, that the stresses can be transferred to other unsupported areas of the body and may lead to an increased risk of injury there.

Are back belts a good safety reminder?
Many believe that back belts are a good tool for increasing worker awareness during lifting, thereby reducing the likelihood of risky mechanics or behavior. It is good practice to remind employees that back belts do not make them stronger and they should not attempt to lift things they wouldn't normally lift. While back belts can serve as a safety reminder, they are only one component of safe lifting. Using sound ergonomic principles, proper body mechanics, and attempting only those tasks within your physical capabilities can help you avoid injury.

Guidelines for using a back belt:

  1. Use your back belt together with the practice of proper body mechanics and posture.
  2. Wear your back belt whenever necessary, but as little as possible. Tighten your belt only during the strenuous part of an activity. For light tasks and breaks, loosen the belt.
  3. Do not rely on your belt to increase your lifting capabilities. Avoid the "Superman Syndrome."
  4. Back belts should not replace good physical condition. Good strength and flexibility help a back stay healthy!
  5. Be sure that your belt is properly sized, is comfortable and is appropriate for your tasks.
  6. If you have any questions, contact The Ergonomics Program.