The answer may just shock you...
You may have heard an ad that goes something like this… “Want to look sleeker and healthier? Just wear this back brace for 30 minutes every day for instant results!”. It may sound crazy, but it catches your attention doesn’t it? Companies like this are rapidly swooping into the market and claiming to be the saviors of our ever-worsening pandemic of back pain. Before you jump off of your couch and snag one of these shiny new gadgets, however, there are a few key pieces of information you need to know.
No, you won’t find any of the advice below on the box of your back brace. Heck, it won’t even be scribbled be in the fine print. Why? Because quality health advice rarely sells. It’s just the brutal truth and if you haven’t realized it yet, then welcome to North America. Fortunately for you, it’s possible to evade the lies, save money, and protect your health from these gimmicks (spoiler alert).
Without further ado, here is everything you need to know about posture braces and real, sustainable back pain management.
What’s the deal with posture braces?
First off, not all braces are bad. If your doctor has prescribed you a brace to treat a traumatic injury, great. If you have a severe spinal cord injury, it may be useful for supporting the body parts that are no longer functional. This article is solely targeting the use of equipment to try and improve posture. If you have any questions or concerns, please comment down below or visit your local physiotherapist.
The purpose of these postural braces is quite simple. The material is built to pull your shoulders back and prevent you from slouching forwards. Essentially, it does all of the heavy lifting for you so you don’t need to be as conscious about your body positions. Sounds pretty great, right? Well, here’s where it all goes wrong…
If you’re using a gadget to ‘fix’ your posture, you’re not using your postural muscles at all. Over time, these tissues will become significantly weaker. Additionally, your postural endurance will get thrown out of the window because you’re not giving the body the necessary ‘life training’ to continue to support these positions. This is an unsustainable, faulty solution in more ways than one.
Ironically, posture braces will do exactly what you don’t want them to do. You’ll just become weaker, tighter, and more rounded.
Well, what's the solution?
There is no such thing as a ‘quick fix’ for back pain, but if you start picking up the right lifestyle habits, you’ll be on your way to recovery in no time. To strip this thing down to the essentials, there are 3 key strategies you must do regularly to improve back pain/posture outcomes. Fortunately, these habits are really straightforward and manageable for anyone’s body type, schedule, and goals.
1) Strength training
If you want to have better posture, start strengthening your postural muscles. It’s that simple. Don’t be too bombarded by ‘correctional’ exercises, however. Doing thousands of chin tucks may help you a little bit, but it’s not necessarily the answer. To start, try focusing on two main exercises — the row and the deadlift — in conjunction with the other two tips below.
These exercises are great due to their ability to foster whole-body strength and stability, especially throughout the posterior chain. Other great exercises include lat pulldowns, squats, and side planks. Even if you’ve never had gym experience, don’t fret. There are modifications available for everyone, regardless of skill level.
Cues: 2 x 15 reps. Attach the band around an anchor or door and ensure it’s secure. Next, set up a chair to allow for a seated row feel. The goal is here is to engage through the core and exhale as you pull the band towards you. As you pull, drive the elbows back behind you and squeeze the shoulder blades together. Hold for 1–2 seconds at the fully contracted phase and then slowly release to the starting pose. As you move through your reps, keep the shoulders down to ensure the neck doesn’t take over.
Cues: 2 x 15–20 reps. If you’re recovering from injury, please start with a light weight and slowly progress over time. If you don’t have access to weights, try finding 2 equal household objects of a moderate weight. Start by engaging the core so that the pelvis and ribs are stacked. Next, slowly hinge the hips and lower the dumbbells until they reach knee height. Once your hamstrings are stretched, begin bending the knees until the dumbbells reach the floor or just above.
To return to the starting position, extend the knees and drive the glutes forward as you slowly lift the dumbbells back up. Remember to exhale during this phase. Additionally, ensure that you keep your spine/neck neutral throughout and keep the weights close to your legs!
If you’re looking for modifications, you can try a Romanian deadlift (RDL) or single-leg deadlift. If you want to progress this movement, add weight by jumping to a barbell or perform a deficit deadlift. As always, please listen to your body and only push as far as you feel comfortable.
2) Mobility work
If you want to achieve better posture, part of the puzzle is improving your range of motion. Many individuals suffer from rounding and excessive tightness because they are too afraid to move beyond their typical poses. This is an easy fix, however.
Start by trying the 3 movements below, taking them slow and only going to the furthest point in your pain-free range of motion (this will improve over time). Simply put, our discs and tissues need frequent movement to flourish. If you want to maximize your spinal health, get used to making this a daily practice!
1) Spiderman Lunges
Cues: 5 reps / side. Start in a push-up position. Step forward with one foot and plant the opposite hand just beside it. Next, fan the other arm vertically for five reps before switching sides. Track your eyes with your thumb to encourage rotation through the neck. Take things slowly — each rep should take approximately three seconds to complete.
2) Lumbar Rocks
Cues: 10–15 reps / side. Start by lying on your back with the knees bent to approximately 90 degrees. Next, raise your hands behind your head and slowly rock your knees from side to side. Begin with a smaller range of motion, gradually increase the length of each rep as you warm up. This is a great active way to get movement through the low back and pelvis.
3) Toe Touch Squat-to-Stand
Cues: 10–15 reps. Begin by hinging at the hips and lowering the arms to the floor. Don’t worry if you can’t touch your toes, just do your best. Next drop into a squat by bending the knees, lowering the hips, and raising the chest/head. Rest at the bottom of your deep squat for one to two seconds and then extend up to a standing position.
In the world of spinal health, movement is medicine!
3) Fine-tuning sedentary habits
We’ve talked a lot about posture already, but there is one thing left to mention…posture itself is not all that important. In our healthcare system, there is such a huge emphasis placed on teaching ‘perfect posture’, but it’s not even that healthy. Instead of trying to sit up like a meerkat all day, focus on shifting your position every 20–30 minutes. This habit will improve the health of your vertebral discs and keep your muscles much happier.
To avoid prolonged sedentary bouts, try to give yourself as many reminders as possible. Perhaps you need to start setting timer intervals for standing breaks at work. Maybe it’s time to take a walk on your lunch instead of remaining at your desk. Whatever it may be, commit to moving more throughout your day and I guarantee you’ll feel better for it.
If you’ve been in the market for a postural brace, it’s time to do a full 180 on your strategies. Buying cheeky gadgets will only make your situation worse as your muscles will grow weaker and your endurance will take a dive. Instead of buying into the marketing BS, take a hold of your health through strength and mobility training along with a reduction in sedentary behavior. If you commit to these habits over the long run, you’ll be miles ahead of those who are relying on a piece of plastic to keep their back straight.
Take matters into your own hands and start training today! You got this.
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