I recently saw a man working out at my Mayfair studio who was wearing a back brace. I asked him what it was for and he proceeded to tell me that he had terrible back pain and was advised to exercise with a sturdy back support. If there is one thing that I find contradictory, it's wearing a brace that stops movement so that you can exercise/move in the gym. If you want to make your back pain worse then wearing a back brace or support is the quickest way to do it and here's why....
Casting is for breaks
Have you ever broken any bones? Last year I worked with a lady who broke her ankle. She was in a cast for 6 weeks and a boot for another 6 weeks. When she started her rehabilitation with me the difference in the musculature from left to right was incredible. It looked like she had two separate legs! You see the body is mighty clever. If you are not using muscles they atrophy (shrink). A similar phenomenon happens to astronauts when they go into space for long periods. Because there is no gravity their bones become less dense. The good news is that when there is an increased need for muscle the body responds and adapts to the stresses it is put under.
This is why I am so adamantly against back braces for back pain. If you have back pain from disc prolapses, spinal stenosis, disc degeneration, or non-specific back pain back braces are really not going to help you in the long term. I am not saying do not wear one but I would like to educate you on what they do to the body so you can make a more informed decision about wearing one.
The off button
Effectively, just like a cast, a back brace will cause muscles to switch off. One of the first things you learn when you start corrective exercise is how to activate the core. Core activation is absolutely essential to the support of the spine and surrounding structures. Switching off these muscles is just asking for trouble. You cannot rely on a brace to give you the support you need - that is the job of your muscles and connective tissues! If you stop conditioning the muscles under controlled conditions with gradual development you will leave your back even further unsupported and at risk of further injury.
The point of exercising is to move. Wearing a brace can result in muscles getting tighter as they are not able to move through a full range. This will create further imbalance as certain muscles will become tighter and others will overwork to compensate further pulling you out of alignment and causing more stress on your back.
If you are wearing something that restricts movement and causes muscles to switch off you will effectively change messages to your brain and alter movement patterns. The brain responds to the movement patterns you put it through and with repetition it creates a blueprint that is stored for future use. It means we do not have to learn a movement every time we come to do it. However, if you change the variables for instance by putting a brace on, the brain will change it's blueprint accordingly. When you take the brace off and go through daily movements, the brain will use the newly formed blueprints with restricted range of motion and less muscle activation. This leaves you even more vulnerable to injuring yourself further.
What to do
You body has its own brace system - your core. The great thing about the core is you don't have to put it on every day - it is always with you. If you do not know how to activate it then seek out help from a corrective exercise specialist. To find out more about your core read my article "Does having a strong core relieve low back pain?" Equally important is your postural alignment. If movement is not your specialist area then chances are you won't know if you have poor posture or to what extent your posture is affecting your back pain. Optimal alignment, core activation and gradual progressive corrective exercise are the keys to getting your back pain under control. There are no quick fixes.
If you are currently wearing a brace and would like to explore another option for improving your back pain then contact me at