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Wednesday, 6 December, 2000, 00:19 GMT
Support belts 'fail to stop back strains'
Back pain affects people with or without support belts
Back pain affects people with or without support belts
Back belts fail to prevent injuries to workers lifting heavy loads, say scientists.

Researchers suggest the problem, which costs British industry 119 million working days a year, is often linked to "psychosocial" problems.

They suggest tackling these issues may be a more productive way to treat the problem.

The researchers interviewed 6,000 people across the US, whose work involved them lifting heavy goods.

They found neither frequent use of the back belts, nor a store policy they should be used had any effect on reducing he incidence of back injury or compensation claims.

If you don't lift the right way, you will injure yourself, no matter what you're wearing

Karen Penny
Back Care

Dr James Wassell, of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, led what the researchers claim is largest ever study of its kind.

They wrote: "Any recommendation to wear back belts when exposed to tasks with this range of physical demands should be met with scepticism.

"The burden of proof should be on those who might still advocate them."

The paper echoes results of a study two years ago, which showed airline baggage handlers saw no benefit from wearing the belts.

Alternative treatments

Commenting on the research, Dr Nortin Hadler and Dr Timothy Carey said: "It is time to focus on the psychosocial elements of life, on and off the job, that render back pain so intolerable that it is memorable and even incapacitating.

"Therein lie potentially effective remedies to one of the most pressing public health issues facing industrialised countries."

Back pain facts
For 40% of adults, it lasts more than a day
1 million are disabled by it
It costs the NHS 480 million a year
It costs the nation 6 billion a year
(Source - Back Care)

Karen Penny, of the UK charity Back Care said they did not recommend the wearing of support belts, and added people should do gentle exercise and stretching to help their backs instead.

She said: "They may be useful as an aide memoir. If they are constricting you, they might remind you to think about how you're lifting.

She added: "If you don't lift the right way, you will injure yourself, no matter what you're wearing."

But Jane Langer, a member of the General Osteopathic Council said she had used the belts successfully with a number of patients.

In one case, a mother with a small child used a belt to help provide support and has found it beneficial. After initial osteopathic treatment she used the back belt for support on a day to day basis.

The paper appears in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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