by Paul Chek
Date Released : 19 Nov 2000
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Are belts as good as people say they are? Certainly, if you could come up with a product that supposedly reduced pain while it improved performance, you could make a lot of money. Just take a look around you next time you are at the lumberyard, warehouse or office supply store. Chances are you will see employees wearing belts. Many furniture moving companies, chain store organizations and package delivery companies have made it mandatory for employees to wear belts.
Have the decisions made by companies, corporations, workers and gym members been based on sound research? Perhaps. But maybe it has been the scare tactics and strong marketing techniques of belt companies that have helped people make their decision. There is certainly no shortage of claims being made by belt manufacturers. For example, here are two claims I pulled directly from one weight belt company’s web site.
The support helps workers perform their duties while helping to protect their backs from stress and strain damage.
Reduces the likelihood of pain or injury for a variety of activities.
If you can market a product based on fear and emotion (both of which are highly correlated with the back pain experience), chances are you will sell that product – and lots of it! Famous speaker, Zig Ziglar, states that F-E-A-R is really False Evidence Appearing Real. This, in my opinion, is the case with weight belts in general.
Apparently, the evidence supporting the use of back belts did not even appear real to Lahad et al. who identified 190 articles from 1966 to 1993 that focused on various interventions for the prevention of low back pain. Lahad et al. concluded that sufficient evidence was unavailable to recommend the use of mechanical back supports for the prevention of back pain. In another study conducted by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, prophylactic use of back belts for healthy workers was not recommended because of a lack of scientific evidence promoting their benefit. There are also many other studies indicating belt use provides no significant improvement in performance or reduction in the user’s chance of injury.
To make this review of belt use complete, it must be stated that there are numerous studies indicating the use of back belts, weight belts and lumbar corsets improve performance and endurance and reduce chances of injury. (These studies are cited in the reference list below.) Even though there are studies demonstrating a supposed increase in performance while using weight belts, there are many, if not more, studies indicating weight belts are damaging and even worse, create dysfunction in their users.
As most of you reading this article are aware, many gyms have racks of weight belts as a service to their members. I have already mentioned their widespread use in the industrial workplace. So then, if as stated above, a government agency devoted to occupational health and safety doesn’t support belt use due to lack of scientific evidence, then what are the belts providing that lead people to believe they help reduce pain, prevent injury or improve performance?
The Weightlifting Encyclopedia – A Guide To World Class Performance, a respected book among weightlifters, cites four reasons for a competitive weightlifter to wear a belt:
The belt itself can offer some support (i.e., to the extent it resists bending, it can provide an external physical force against which the body can exert a force).
The lifter can exert some outward force against the belt with the muscles of the torso (primarily the abdominal muscles), helping achieve rigidity in the torso.
The pressure of the belt can help to remind the lifter to maintain the correct position of the spine and the proper degree of tension in the lower back muscles.
The belt can help to keep the area it covers warm.