Milwaukee Board Certified Chiropractic Orthopedist and Herniated Disc Doctor writes: A lumbar brace is a wrap-around or strap-on device that goes around the body to support the muscles and bony structures of the lower back. It may be called a lumbar brace, a belt or a corset. The purpose usually is to restrict the mobility of the spine. There are two basic kinds of braces, soft ones and rigid ones.
Soft braces are usually made of elastic or neoprene. They provide some degree of muscular support but mainly serve as a reminder to not move beyond a comfort range. They may help with better body mechanics and remind a person to stand upright but really do not aid in lifting ability or strength at all. People with arthritis or mild instability of the lower back may benefit from this type of brace.
Most spine problems are not the kind that need to be immobilized. The tissue heals better and faster with movement of the right kind. Excessive use of this soft type of brace does weaken the body's built-in muscular corset. We do not recommend the use of this type of brace for daily continuous use, even for weight-lifting. It may be used for specific tasks that may place you at risk of spinal injury by overloading the spine or putting you in a compromising position that might weaken your spine. Once that task is complete then the brace should be removed.
The rigid type of brace was made of plaster or stiff fiberglass in the past but modern ones are made of lighter materials like nylon, fiberglass and velcro. This allows greater comfort, better fit and adaptability.
There are certain circumstances when wearing a rigid belt is not only helpful but important. When the trunk musculature has been weakened to the point that it is unable to support the weight of the upper body, even normal motion can be damaging to the healing tissue. Immobilizing the spine becomes necessary until the muscles can regain enough strength and coordination to resume their normal role. We sometimes recommend the use of a rigid lumbar brace during the recovery period for people with herniated discs, degenerative discs or spinal stenosis in their lower spine.
While the brace can be uncomfortable or inconvenient, it is necessary to use for best healing. When you need it, you need it. And the time when you need it is when the spine needs to be immobilized to allow healing. Even in these cases the use of the brace should not be prolonged. Although a brace may require you to restrict some activities or form different habits, the support that a brace provides will speed your healing and may prevent further injury. It will be used during the treatment program and will be weaned when the muscle strength and coordination is rehabilitated.
So should you be wearing a brace?
The goal is to use the brace as little as possible but as much as is necessary. The muscles of the trunk are a built-in brace that makes the best support most of the time. Adding an external brace to this complicates the motion pattern and may weaken the muscles. It is best in most cases to minimize the use of the brace so the muscles do not weaken.
Testing can show muscle weaknesses which can then be addressed. We will help determine if you will benefit from a brace and if so, which one. Then we will help you learn how to fit it comfortably and how to use it properly.