Do Back Belts Prevent Back Injuries?

Last Editorial Review: 8/7/2002

Back injuries account for nearly 20% of all injuries and illnesses in the workplace and cost the United States an estimated 20 to 50 billion dollars per year. In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in the number of workers who rely on back belts to prevent back injuries during lifting.

Back belts (which are also called "back supports" and "abdominal belts") are currently worn by workers in numerous industries, including grocery store clerks, airline baggage handlers, and warehouse workers (and by weightlifters).

The available data, unfortunately, do not support or refute the effectiveness of back belts in preventing injuries.

After a thorough review of the scientific literature, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the U.S. concluded that, because of the limitations of the studies that have analyzed the use of back belts in the workplace, the results cannot be used either to support or to refute the effectiveness of back belts in injury reduction.

Although back belts are being bought and sold under the premise that they reduce the risk of back injury, there is insufficient scientific evidence that they actually deliver what is promised.

NIOSH, therefore, does not recommend the use of back belts to prevent injuries among workers who have never been injured. (Since NIOSH's primary focus is on the prevention of injury, NIOSH did not address the use of back belts as medical treatment during rehabilitation from injury.)

If employers or their workers are relying on back belts as protective equipment against back injury, NIOSH cautions that they should be aware of the lack of scientific evidence supporting the use of back belts. Medical editors suggest going 'back' to the basics and looking into back conditioning exercises and back-healthy lifting techniques as effective means of preventing back injuries.

For additional information, please visit the Low Back Pain Center

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