What are back belts?
Also known as lumbar belts, weight lifters' belts or back support devices, back belts:
- are designed to be worn by people performing some forms of manual handling, particularly lifting weights
- are usually made from an elasticised material, with or without shoulder straps
- can be worn loose and then tightened during manual handling tasks
- are generally worn around the lower back
Why people wear back belts
People performing manual handling tasks may feel they will get more support when they wear a back belt. However, the support from the back belt does not significantly reduce stress on the spine and surrounding muscles and ligaments.
The WorkSafe website has various resources to help with hazardous manual handling, including the Hazardous manual handling health and safety guide and the Compliance code: Hazardous manual handling. You'll find links to both resources and other helpful information at the bottom of this page.
Back belts do not reduce spinal sprains or fatigue
Forces that cause something in the body to be squeezed, squashed or compacted are known as compressive forces. Forces that push one part of the body in one direction and another part of the body in the opposite direction are shear forces. Scientific research has found that back belts provide only a minimal reduction in compressive force. Some research has even found that the highest compressive and shearing forces in the spine occur when wearing a belt.
Back belts do not change the activity levels of spinal muscles in any posture. This means those muscles are working just as hard as they would be without the use of a back belt and are at risk of injury from overuse and muscle fatigue.
The effectiveness of back belts for managing muscle fatigue or increasing lifting force is not proven. In fact, there is a danger that using a belt may encourage the lifting of heavier weights if the user wrongly thinks they have greater lifting ability.
Published research shows no evidence that back belts reduce the risk of worker injuries.
Back belts can potentially increase injury
Wearing a back belt has a similar effect on the abdominal muscles to holding your breath. This increases pressure on the abdominal muscles which can lead to stiff and exaggerated postures. These postures may increase the potential for injury.
Diastolic blood pressure and respiration can increase during lifting when wearing a back belt. Increased blood pressure and rate of respiration can increase the risk of heart attacks in susceptible people.
Back braces can be useful after injury
When someone is injured at work, a doctor or physiotherapist may prescribe a back brace to help the injured person manage their recovery and wellbeing. In these cases, a back belt helps to remind the injured person of their strength and movement limitations and, rather than being an injury prevention device, may decrease the risk of making their injury worse.
WorkSafe Advisory Service
Toll-free: 1800 136 089
Email: [email protected]