Lumbar supports (also called braces or corsets) are used in the prevention and treatment of low-back pain. This review is important because low-back pain is very common. Prevention and treatment are important both to people with back pain and to society, which bears the expense of back pain treatment and sick leave due to back pain.
We included seven studies on prevention (14,437 people) and eight studies on treatment (1361 people) in this review.
There was little or no difference between individuals with low-back pain who used back supports and those who received no treatment (five studies, 13,995 people), or education on lifting techniques (two studies, 954 people) in back pain prevention or reduction of sick leave.
In one study (82 people), back supports added to back school (patient education about recovering from back pain) were helpful in reducing the number of days of sick leave but not in preventing back pain. Back supports plus usual medical care reduced the number of days of low-back pain and improved function, but did not reduce sick leave (one study, 360 people).
In four studies (1170 people), there was little or no difference between patients with acute or chronic back pain who used back supports and those who received no treatment in short-term pain reduction or overall improvement.
There is conflicting evidence (two studies, 550 people) about whether back supports are better than nothing in helping low-back pain patients return to work faster, however in three studies (410 patients), they were better than nothing in helping individuals with subacute and chronic low-back pain recover function in the short term.
In three studies (954 people), there was little or no difference in short-term pain reduction, overall improvement and return-to-work between those who used back supports and those who received manipulation, physiotherapy, or electrical stimulation. One study (164 people) reported mixed results on whether back supports improved function more than massage and in another study (19 people), use of a lumbar corset with back support was more effective in reducing pain in the short-term than a corset alone.
Conclusions from this review should be viewed with caution due to the low quality of many of the studies. In the future, researchers should report side effects from wearing back supports and measure how many hours per day the supports are actually worn.