Many experts have questioned the effectiveness of back belts in preventing back injuries. There is little scientific proof providing undisputed evidence that back belts reduce the possibility of injury during lifting.
Proponents for using back belts present the following arguments:
- Belts increase intra-abdominal pressure. This is the pressure developed when you tighten your stomach muscles. Strong abdominals help support the spine, and can reduce back stress by up to 50% when lifting. Back belts can boost this pressure, especially when lifting loads greater than your body weight.
- Belts increase flexibility. Belts can help to keep muscles warm. Warmer muscles are more flexible than colder muscles.
- Belts serve a biofeedback function. The presence of a back belt can help remind workers to use proper body mechanics when lifting.
Experts questioning the value of back belts have the following concerns:
- Belts elevate blood pressure. This can be dangerous for individuals with cardiac problems.
- Belts promote sweating and heat rashes. This is especially problematic when working in warm environments.
- Tight belts can be painful. Improperly fitted belts can cause abdominal pain and injuries, especially if worn for prolonged periods.
- Belts provide a false sense of security. Workers can feel protected by the belt and lift unsafe loads.
Back belts should be used only after proper screening, fitting and instruction. Employees should recognize that belts do not increase strength and lifting ability, or substitute for proper body mechanics. However, back belts, when coupled with body mechanics and lifting training, can be part of an effective injury prevention program. They will not make employees more fit, buy can serve as a reminder to use safe lifting techniques.