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Back Gizmos: Do The Work?

Advice On Belts, Inserts & Special Mattresses

There are a host of back support products out there, but will they really help alleviate your pain? Kathy Shillue, physical therapist at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, helps sort through some of the most popular ones.

Back Supports and Back Belts

Back beltBack supports are sometimes worn by people with back pain, or to prevent injuries in people who do a lot of heavy or repetitive lifting at work. The use of back supports is somewhat controversial because there is no evidence that they are effective for treating back pain or preventing back injuries. In fact, there is some evidence that suggests that using a back support is no more effective than no treatment at all. For this reason, and because there is often a substantial cost in purchasing a back support, their routine use is not recommended.

Some people believe they feel better using a back support, and if that is the case, there is no harm in using the support. In some individual cases, using a back support might be beneficial if it allows the user to return to work or daily activities sooner than without it.

In some instances, your doctor may recommend a back support for a specific purpose. Some customized braces provide more rigid support or control of motion than a soft support, and are used after a traumatic injury or surgery. These are usually worn for a limited period of time while injured tissues are healing.

Shoe Inserts

Shoe with insertSome small studies have shown some effectiveness of shoe inserts, but they tended to focus on subjects who had specific problems with one leg, or had one leg significantly longer than the other. For most people, it is more beneficial to invest in a pair of good, comfortable, supportive shoes so you can do more walking, as walking itself has been shown to help alleviate back pain.

Special Mattresses

MattressThere is no conclusive evidence that a person with back pain needs a special mattress. A good night's sleep, however, is important, not only for your back, but for your total well-being. It is important to have a comfortable and supportive mattress, but finding the right one may be a matter of trial and error. What is comfortable for one person may not be comfortable for another, so make sure you try before you buy.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted March 2011

Contact Information

Carl J. Shapiro Department of Orthopaedics
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215
617-667-3940

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