Postural aids and back braces - Fab or Fad?

Back Posture Braces

April 15, 2023

Social media is full of useful tips and products to help you get ahead of the game, whether that be to improve your sporting performance, speed up your recovery or improve your general health. However, as evidence-based practitioners, we at Physiotherapy Matters do not simply follow the latest fads, instead, we look at the latest scientific research to determine the best available evidence in order to promote methods that provide real benefits to our patients. Not all the things you see on social media advertised by your favourite fitness influencers are supported by that same evidence!

So, what about back posture braces or postural correction devices?

In the past, back posture braces have been quite popular, as it was considered that to manage back pain, it should be rested with limited movement allowed! The evidence around this has significantly changed over the years, and it is now best practice to encourage active mobility, strengthening, and reducing fear avoidant behaviours. When it comes to back posture braces, the evidence now shows that, when combined with education and exercise instruction, these posture correctors did not provide any pain relief compared with education and exercise instruction alone (Annaswamy et al 2021). In fact, using a back brace to manage back pain could actually end up making things worse, as you could end up restricting your natural range of movement and becoming more fearful and cautious of what should be natural and perfectly safe movements.

This may differ when it comes to certain sports – there may be a place for using back braces intermittently in sports such as weightlifting, as here it is serving a specific purpose for a very specific sport and reason. But for the purpose of managing back pain, whether that be chronic or acute pain, we would advise against using back braces.

The answer is similar for postural correction devices. Many people have become worried about their posture, especially if noticing they have a protruding neck or rounded upper back. This can often be the result of spending too long in static, seated postures with the nature of modern work and living, and not doing enough physical activity. So how do you go about managing this problem?

The evidence suggests that a combination of strengthening and mobility exercises can help to improve posture, along with ensuring that you are taking regular breaks from any desk based work and changing your posture regularly. Evidence has shown that application of a corrective posture shirt did not acutely alter forward shoulder angle or forward head angle (Manor et al, 2016). It is better to strengthen the muscles that help to maintain your posture and keep the joints mobile, so they don’t become stiff from static postures. This approach is more likely to lead to a better longer-term outcome, as you are training the muscles and joints in the body to do the jobs they are designed to do.
If you would like further advice on exercises to manage lower back pain, or postural strengthening and mobility exercises, why not get in touch and book an appointment with one of the physiotherapists? They will be able to perform an assessment, and guide you through a management plan specific to your needs.

Annaswamy, Thiru M. MD, MA; Cunniff, Kegan J. MD; Kroll, Mitchell MS; Yap, Lori MD; Hasley, Matthew DO; Lin, Chung-Kuang MD; Petrasic, Jason MD. Lumbar Bracing for Chronic Low Back Pain: A Randomized Controlled Trial. American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation 100(8):p 742-749, August 2021. | DOI: 10.1097/PHM.0000000000001743
Manor, J., Hibberd, E., Petschauer, M. and Myers, J., 2016. Acute effects of posture shirts on rounded-shoulder and forward-head posture in college students. Journal of Sport Rehabilitation, 25(4), pp.309-314.

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