Braces, belts and tape are good, but our muscles are the best
We are often asked if a back brace or abdominal belt will help reduce pain or help with posture and if the application of Kinesio tape will assist in reducing the chance of injury while participating in sports.
Unfortunately, there is no quick fix. Adding to this, the improper use an abdominal belt or postural brace may only further exacerbate your issues. And like most things, there are positives and negatives to using abdominal and back belts, postural braces and Kinesio tape.
My goal in this post is to give you a better understanding of these products and whether they are right for you.
Abdominal and Back Belts
If you have a job that requires a lot of lifting and bending, most people will recommend that you use an abdominal or back brace to preserve your back and reduce injury. In most cases this is misleading.
While a brace certainly can aid in lifting heavy objects, a lot of people do not know how to properly utilize them. Most of the time they tighten the belt and go to work. An abdominal belt is designed for the user to push into with their core. This allows for the buildup of abdominal pressure to help support the spine when lifting heavy weights.
I have detailed in previous blog posts how the core works to support the spine, specifically, how the abdominal muscles work to increase pressure to support the front of the spine. If the user just straps the belt on and lifts a heavy object without pushing into it, they risk not building enough support around the spine, which may result in an injury.
Another risk is becoming reliant on using an abdominal or back belt in order to complete daily tasks. When we rely on outside forces or artificial braces to help us accomplish tasks on a regular basis, we lose the ability for our own muscles to naturally brace. This can lead to other issues over time because it changes the function of our muscles and their ability to bare weight and support our body.
An abdominal or back belt, when worn correctly, will help preserve the back when lifting heavy loads, but at a cost if we become reliant on either to lift anything.
Amidst the poor postural epidemic that seems to accompany the increase use of smart phones and sedentary desk jobs, we have seen an increase in questions regarding postural braces to help with correcting poor posture. While at first this may seem like an easy fix, it will eventually lead to more issues in the long run.
Similar to the abdominal and back belts, it is dangerous to become reliant on an artificial brace. Remember, our muscles are the natural postural brace. By relying on an artificial brace, we end up with poorer posture when the brace is removed. This leads to an increase in pain and decrease in overall function as the ability to naturally support our body is decreased.
While a postural brace can be used to cue the body to become accustom with a certain position, it is imperative that it does not become viewed as an acceptable treatment or permanent fix. It is more important to work on postural retraining and core strengthening then relying on a postural brace to do the work for us.
Ever since the Olympics featured athletes covered in bizarre colorful tape, we get asked about the use of Kinesio tape to help stabilize a joint or assist in overall function during activities. It seems that even though Kinesio tape has taken the athletic world by storm, a majority of people do not understand how to use Kinesio tape properly.
When I say using Kinesio tape properly, I am not referring to the actual taping techniques for different problems. A lot of people use the tape on their ankles, knees, shoulders or elbows to help reinforce and reduce the chance of injury. What many people do not realize is that Kinesio tape isn’t designed to reinforce or protect joints from unwanted motion. Kinesio tape is designed with an elastic element to help facilitate better proprioception and muscle cueing in order to complete actions better.
When I played hockey, I was plagued with several shoulder dislocations. My physical therapist recommended Kinesio tape. While the tape wasn’t applied to prevent the dislocation of my shoulders, it did make me more aware of the deficits in my shoulder. This allowed me to alter movements to reduce the chance of dislocation. While there are positives to using this type of tape for athletic means, it is commonly misused and applied as a strapping tape to prevent excess motion.
I am not saying that the above-mentioned braces and tape do not work. The takeaway is to understand how to use them properly and to not allow your body to become reliant on them. Moderation is the key to life, and these devices are effective as long as they are used for their intended purpose.