Lumbar supports – also called braces or corsets – are not very effective at preventing low back pain or reducing disability in those who suffer from an arthritic back, according to a review in a recent issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates medical research.

Researchers at Amsterdam School for Health Professionals in the Netherlands looked at seven prevention and eight treatment studies, which together included 15,798 people. They found little or no difference between people with low-back pain who used back supports and those who received no treatment or education on lifting techniques in back pain prevention or reduction of sick leave.

In four studies, there was little or no difference between patients with acute or chronic back pain who used back supports and those who received no treatment in short-term pain reduction or overall improvement. In three studies there was little or no difference in short-term pain reduction, overall improvement and return-to-work between those who used back supports and those who received manipulation, physiotherapy, or electrical stimulation.

In one study, back supports along with patient education about recovering from back pain were helpful in reducing the number of days of sick leave but not in preventing back pain. In another, back supports plus usual medical care reduced the number of days of low-back pain and improved function, but did not reduce sick leave.

The researchers say conclusions from this review should be viewed with caution due to the low quality of many of the studies. In the future, researchers should report side effects from wearing back supports and measure how many hours per day the supports are actually worn.