Lifting Belts: Back Saver or False Sense of Security?
A question that I get asked often is: “Are lifting belts effective in protecting the lower back during manual material handling?” Let’s dive into the literature and see what the research says.
The rationale behind lifting belts is that they increase intra-abdominal pressure, which then stabilizes the spine and reduces disc compression during heavy lifting. This is, in fact, true and has been demonstrated in various studies. However, it is important to note that these were exercise studies in which individuals were lifting loads close to their maximal capacity for low repetitions, which is not comparable to the workplace, where submaximal lifts are performed at greater frequencies.
To fill that gap in knowledge, researchers have assessed lifting belts in an industrial setting for manual material handling tasks and have reported the following results:
- Lifting belts do not increase lifting capacity for wearers.
- Lifting belts do not reduce back muscle fatigue.
- Lifting belts do not reduce back injury incidences; there is no difference in injury incidences between workers who use lifting belts versus those who do not.
- The cost per worker for back injuries where lifting belts are used is higher than for back injuries where they are not worn.
In conclusion, lifting belts do not protect the lower back in an occupational and industrial setting. If you identify a task that has a high risk of potentially causing a low back injury, the first line of defense should be to implement an engineering solution that improves the task itself, such as installing a lifting device, rather than encouraging a false sense of security by providing a lifting belt.
Kurustien, N., Mekhora, K., Jalayondeja, W., Nanthavanij, S. (2015). Trunk muscle performance and work-related musculoskeletal disorders among manual lifting with back belt wearing workers. Journal of the Medical Association of Thailand 98, 80 – 86.
Mitchell, L.V., Lawler, F.H., Bowen, D., Mote, W., Asundi, P., Purswell, J. (1994). Effectiveness and cost effectiveness of employer-issued back belts in areas of high risk for back injuries. Journal of Occupational Medicine 36, 90 – 94.
Renfro, G.J., Ebben, W.P. (2006). A review of the Use of Lifting Belts. Strength and Conditional Journal 28, 68 – 74.