Few people have the perfect posture, nowadays, and many suffer from back pain. A very common reason is: we sit too much and for too long, whether in the office, behind the wheel, or at home in front of the TV. Sitting in front of the computer, in your car or at your desk for hours and hours every day is bad for your spine and for your posture. However, not everyone has a choice.
So, what can you do? Are there any lower back support products that can help? After all, our bodies are not designed to sit all day long. They are rather designed to move. When sitting for extended periods of time, our lower back will lose its natural inward lumbar curve putting a lot of pressure on the discs of the lower back. The result is LOWER BACK PAIN.
Apart from doing regular back strengthening exercises and other Pilates exercises that alleviate back pain, there are a number of products around that you can use whilst sitting, standing and also during your Pilates workout. They are all supposed to help your spine maintain or regain its natural lumbar curve correcting your overall posture and thus eliminating lower back pain.
Lower back brace / spine support belt – wear with caution
Lower back braces or spine support belts are generally designed to stabilize a weak back by lowering strain and pressure on the spine during heavy lifting and making transitional movements more comfortable – such as sitting to standing. They are also meant to improve posture by elongating the spine. In most cases they are worn after back injuries, but also when back issues occur, to support the healing process and to prevent further injury.
There are various types of spine support belts available that all claim to assist in healing, decrease the risk of further injury, help reduce pain, support weakened muscles and to promote good posture. These spine support belts are worn on top of your clothes and are generally easy to put on and to take off. Sounds like a good solution for stabilizing your spine, reducing back pain and achieving a good posture? It seems so. But what are the risks of wearing a lower back brace?
Whilst spine support belts offer undeniable benefits, as mentioned before, to individuals with back injuries and other back issues, such as are Lumbago, Sciatica or Spinal Stenosis, they are not suitable for long-term use. So, it’s not a good idea to wear them over a longer period of time to relief the symptoms of bad posture and back pain due to prolonged sitting and working on a computer every day. Let me explain why.
Spine support belts work by taking over the task of your abdominal muscles, your core muscles and your spine muscles. That means they support your back INSTEAD of your muscles. This is a good thing if your muscles are damaged or so weak that they can’t do their intended job, or if extra support is needed due to an injury or health issue. However, if they are no longer needed to support the spine as the support belts are doing the work for them, your abdominal, spine and core muscles will degenerate. As a result, you may become dependent on the support belt and not be able to maintain correct postures without the help of the belt.
Lumbar support cushion – fine for long-term use?
Lumbar support cushions are designed to provide upper and lower back support as well as posture correction by promoting proper spinal alignment thus alleviating back pain and reducing the risk of back problems, such as sciatica. They can be used wherever you sit – in your office or desk chair, your settee or armchair, your car seat or airplane seat or even in your bed. Unlike spine support belts, they are intended for regular and long-term use.
So how do they help you? A good quality cushion made of memory foam will mould to the natural curve of your spine and help your muscles relax. Also, it will keep the spine in its correct sitting position thanks to its ergonomic shape. As a result, sitting on your chair or in your seat will be feel much more comfortable, any back pain will be eased, and you can just sit back and enjoy whatever you are doing. It will also help relieve pain caused by arthritis and sciatica nerve pain as you will be sitting in the correct position.
In contrast to spine support belts, lumbar support cushions do not take over the function of your abdominal, spine and core muscles. Instead they help them work more efficiently by correcting the sitting position of your spine. Therefore, there is no risk of your muscles degenerating or of you becoming dependent on the cushion. So you can use your support cushion without hesitation whenever it suits you and for as long as you wish.
Lumbar traction devices – beneficial or risky?
Lumbar traction devices are different from other lower back support products as they support the back indirectly as an after-effect of their primary action. They are based on the concept of decompression of the spine, which is also widely used by physiotherapists as a form of therapy to relieve neck and back pain. It’s effectively a method where the spine is stretched and relaxed intermittently creating a negative pressure within the disc itself and taking the pressure off trapped nerves. This is said to have various potential benefits, such as pulling herniated disc material back in to the disc or promoting the passage of healing nutrients into the disc.
However, you don’t need to have a damaged or injured spine to benefit from a lumbar traction device. It is also a very effective device for alleviating general lower back pain as it realigns your spine, improves your flexibility, mobility and blood circulation, and relaxes the spinal and core muscles. As a result, your supporting core muscles will work more efficiently thus providing more support to your spine.
There is a variety of different lumbar traction devices available, both electric and non-electric, and some are easier to use than others. The question here is: are they all safe to use at home? If performed correctly, back traction exercises only gently stretch your spine and shouldn’t do any damage. However, if you are not familiar with the features of a lumbar traction device and don’t know how to use it correctly, you might cause more damage to your back. So before using a lumbar traction device, you should consult your doctor of physiotherapist first to find out how to safely implement back traction exercises at home.
Foam rollers – safe for everyday use?
Similar to lumbar traction devices, foam rollers don’t support the back directly but indirectly. They work by targeting trigger points in your back by gently massaging them and relieving tension in your back supporting muscles. This increases the blood flow and releases muscle toxins which supports the healing and recovery process of sore or damaged muscles. As a result, your core stabilizing muscles become more flexible and stronger enabling them to work more efficiently. Healthier, stronger core muscles, in turn, mean a healthier and stronger spine.
Although using foam rollers doesn’t directly help with realigning your spine – unlike lumbar traction devices – their clear strength is their ability to target specific muscle groups and to balance them. Balanced muscles will make it far easier to get into the correct posture and to maintain it. At the same time, they will help alleviate any existing back pain and prevent it from building up.
Foam rollers are widely available and affordable, and you may wonder whether everyone should have one at home to tackle back pain. But are these safe to use every day? Well, if you know the right technique and use your roller correctly, you will quickly feel the benefits. However, you can do more harm than good if you don’t position yourself and the roller correctly. For example, to strengthen your lower back muscles, you should by no means use it immediately on your lower back as this can lead to contraction of your spinal muscles and damage them. So, make sure you get some specialist advice first before using foam rollers.
Conclusion – A back support is not a back support
There are many different types of lower back support products around but whether the specific product will actually help reduce or eliminate your back pain depends on your individual situation and needs. Not all supports are useful or helpful for everybody and some can do more harm than good if applied in the incorrect way. So when choosing a back support or strengthening product, you need to be aware of what your exact requirements are and how to apply the product correctly to benefit from it.
A spine support belt is a great choice when you are suffering from spine injuries or certain spine conditions, and when worn intermittently, it can be a good solution and serve its purpose. However, as it actually weakens the core stabilizing muscles over time, it is not recommended for long-term use, unless advised by a physician. Also, you need to be aware that some products, when used incorrectly, can make things worse, so you might end up with more pain than before using them. This is true for the lumbar traction devices and foam rollers. They are great devices to use at home regularly to tackle or prevent back pain, however harmful if not used in the right way.
The only lower back support product without any risks is the lumbar support cushion. This is very easy to apply and very easy to position, can be used every day and all day long and offers the right support for your back. For maximum comfort, however, you need to pay attention to its size, its shape, its material and its firmness. So if you need to sit a lot, whether at work or during your leisure time, this is a good item to own.