Rigid and Semi-Rigid Orthoses for Lower Back Pain

Rigid braces consist of a sturdy layer of material (typically cotton or canvas) that wraps around the torso, and includes rigid panels that cover the front, back, and sometimes sides of the brace. Some models include hard plastic or metal bars that cover the outside of the brace.

A back brace that combines elements of both flexible and rigid orthoses may be referred to as a semi-rigid brace. For instance, a flexible lumbar belt may include additional padding or molded plastic inserts for some additional support and stability.

Rigid and semi-rigid braces help relieve lower back pain by:

  • Applying pressure to the torso to hold the spine in a healthy posture and shift weight from the spinal column to the abdomen
  • Providing significant support to take pressure off of weakened or injured spinal structures, including the muscles, joints, discs, and nerve roots
  • Significantly reducing range of motion to prevent most forward, backward, and side-to-side bending, as well as most rotation of the trunk
  • Drastically reducing micro-motion at a spinal segment or fracture, improving the chances of successful healing by limiting irritation from the shock of jarring motions
  • Reducing muscle tension through the warmth of the brace

Customized to Fit Your Needs

In one study, disability index and pain scores improved more when participants used a rigid back brace compared with a flexible brace. 

A rigid back brace may be custom-made or assembled from a selection of pre-made parts. In either case, a doctor, orthotist who specializes in designing and fitting braces, or other qualified health professional will measure and fit the brace to ensure it is safe, comfortable, and effective.

Flexible Bracing

Flexible orthoses are made of a soft material, such as cotton/elastic blends, canvas, and/or neoprene (a type of synthetic, flexible rubber). These braces include corsets, lumbar belts, and sacroiliac belts.

Flexible lumbar belts or corsets typically come in a variety of sizes and designs. A corset brace looks similar to a woman's corset and allows for some limited bending. Corsets typically include vertical metal or plastic stays at the front, back, and/or sides of the brace that provide stability and some motion restriction.

Lumbar belts and sacroiliac belts provide somewhat more restriction in movement and are typically made of a sturdier fabric without stays.

Flexible Corsets and Belts Can Help Relieve Lower Back Pain by:

  • Applying light pressure to the torso to help adjust posture and shift weight off of the spinal column
  • Providing some added spinal support to take pressure off of weakened or injured muscles
  • Moderately limiting range of motion to allow for some bending and twisting. For instance, while wearing a flexible brace, it may be possible to bend forward enough to touch the top of the knee, but not past the knees
  • Reducing micro-motion at a loose or weakened joint through compression of the torso or pelvis (especially in lumbar and sacroiliac joint belts)
  • Relaxing tense muscles through the warmth of the brace

It is recommended to consult with a doctor on the appropriate size and fit of a flexible brace to ensure the brace is safe to use and likely to provide effective pain relief.


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