Understanding Back Support

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Back injuries rank among the top work-related injuries. Back disablements often result in lost time and a lengthy recuperation period and, as such, are major contributors to workers' compensation costs. In fact, according to the National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health, back disorders account for over 24 percent of all occupational injuries and illnesses involving days away from work.

Sore backs can range from a nuisance to those that prevent the sufferer from doing what is needed for work or enjoyment. Prolonged back pain not only affects physical activity, but the continuously nagging pain can also begin to affect mood and outlook. In the workplace, factors that contribute to back injuries include:

  • A single traumatic event, such as a slip and fall or a vehicle accident.
  • Cumulative trauma to the spine and related structures from poor work posture, extended periods of standing or sitting, or repeated activities such as bending, twisting, and lifting (whether properly or improperly).

In workplaces where there is a risk of back injury, steps can be taken to help reduce the incidence. One tool in the back-injury-prevention arsenal is back supports.

The rationale behind back supports is that they support your abdomen and take some of the load off your lower back. If you have a labor-intensive job that places stress on your lower back, a back brace can help while you're working or on returning to work after a back injury by avoiding too much strain on your spine. Posture support devices have added straps to help maintain a better posture for overall back health. Back support choices range from economical (starting at $10.51), to weightlifter belt style, to contoured and highly adjustable.

What a Back Support Can't Do

While a back support can be a helpful ergonomic tool, like any type of personal protective equipment (PPE) there are limitations to what it can do, and it is important to recognize those limitations in order to help prevent back injuries.

  • Back supports will not allow a worker to lift more weight.
  • Back supports will not eliminate back injuries. They are one control measure to help reduce the risk of injury. Reducing the risk factors help reduce the incidence rate. Back supports should be used in conjunction with other control measures.
  • Back supports are not a substitute for an effective ergonomics program. They are a supplemental part of a comprehensive ergonomics program, which includes job task analysis, ergonomic redesign, medical surveillance, training and education, and the use of personal protective equipment. Back supports also have a positive role to play in those situations where the risk of injury cannot be readily engineered out of a job, such as in patient care, hospitality, construction, or delivery service settings.

It is also important to remember that, while back supports can improve posture, they may restrict motion. There has been some concern this restriction may result in the wasting away (atrophy) of some muscles that support the spine through lack of use. If you use a back support, limit the use to intermittently several hours a day to ensure that muscles are properly maintained (and if you use a back support while recovering from a back injury, be sure to consult your medical professional regarding appropriate use for your conditions).

How to Select the Right Back Support

Selecting the appropriate back support is important for proper use and comfort while wearing it.

  • Check for a design that conforms to the body to ensure a comfortable, secure fit. Back supports should sit below the navel and fit snugly on the hips, covering the vulnerable L5 and S1 area of the spine. A back support should not pinch or cause pain when you are wearing it.
  • Check for an adjustable two-stage closure that allows the user to tighten the support during lifting activities and loosen when in a nonlifting position.
  • Check for an internal gripping mechanism. These devices reduce ride up and help keep the back support in place. It's best if these materials are nonconductive so the support can be used in a variety of applications and work settings.
  • Check to make sure the materials are breathable and machine washable. Inferior materials can be hot and uncomfortable to wear and may need to be hand washed.
  • Check the material specifications for overall durability. Inferior hook-and-loop closures, elastic band and other critical components will breakdown, reducing function, and increasing long-term cost.
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Rathi Niyogi has 1 articles online

Rathi Niyogi is the CEO of CriticalTool, a national distributor of Safety Equipment If you thought this article was helpful, additional information on back support products  can be found at CriticalTool.com

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Understanding Back Support

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This article was published on 2010/04/02