Back belts, also called "back supports" or "abdominal belts" were originally used in medical rehabilitation therapy. Leather belts have also been used by athletes during weight lifting. Recently, the "industrial back belt" has become popular. While there are many types of belts on the market, the most common style is of a lightweight, elastic belt worn around the lower back which is sometimes held in place with suspenders.
A back belt is a device used, in theory, to reduce the forces on the spine, increase intra-abdominal pressure, stiffen the spine and reduce loads during lifting. It is also advertised that by wearing a back belt, the worker will be reminded to avoid awkward postures and heavy loads, reduce bending motions and in the end, reduce injuries in certain workplaces.
In spite of anecdotal claims, no evidence has so far been found to support the claim that wearing back belts improves one's back safety. In response to the substantial increase in the number of workers who rely on back belts to prevent injury from lifting, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) in the United States formed the Back Belt Working Group to review and evaluate the existing data related to back belts. Their final conclusions are:
The NIOSH groups' concerns which led to such conclusions were:
With these recommendations in mind, the Ontario Ministry of Labour issued "Health and Safety Guidelines - Weight lifting or lumbar support belts in manual materials handling work" that warns users and potential users of any kind of back belts about the potential health risks that could result from wearing these devices.
Document confirmed current on November 10, 2005
Document last updated on December 8, 1997