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280518 The lifting belt part 2
By Danny M. O’Dell, M.A.,CSCS
Given the modern day propensity of wearing a lifting belt and its appearance on those who are exercising in the gyms and on FitTV, one would think that everyone should wear a belt at all times while participating in physical fitness activities. Those who began lifting in the 70’s 80’s and early 90’s would be hard pressed NOT to espouse their use because that is what they were led to believe. If by chance you started back in the 50’s, 60’s and late 90’s to present then the belt is a non issue and almost a totally unnecessary piece of gear. Some swear by it and others swear at it.
Since so many people are wearing these belts from the lifter to the warehouse employee it is not unreasonable to be confused about when to wear one. McGill reported in 1993 that wearing a belt in an occupational setting supported the following documented effects.
The loads on those who have never had a previous back injury seem to offer no additional protection by wearing a belt.
Wearing a belt appears to increase the degree of injury making it more severe.
People seem to have the perception that wearing a belt means they can lift more and in some cases this is true; the placebo effect personified. However in many cases this fosters a false sense of security. Given this attitude each person should receive a lifting course on the correct way to lift. This course would of necessity include topics that provide information on how the tissues become damaged, back sparing techniques, and finally what to do with the feelings of discomfort that generally precede injury.
Increased intra abdominal pressure, elevated blood pressure and higher heart rates result from using the belt. Individuals considering the use of a belt ‘on the job’ must be screened by medical personnel due to these heightened cardiovascular concerns.
The lifting style of those using the belt appears to either increase or decrease pressure on the spine.
So why are so many using the belt? Perhaps it is due to the anecdotal gym talk that their use reminds them to lift correctly. Other reasons that don’t stand up to rigorous scientific inquiry include:
The belt helps support the shear loading on the lumbar spine resulting from gravity acting on the weight in a handheld position while the upper torso is in a semi flexed position under the load.
The belt reduces the compressive loading of the lumbar spine through the hydraulic actions of increased intra abdominal pressures.
Wearing a belt provides a splint effect between the upper and lower torso by reducing the range of motion (ROM), and provides a stiffening effect, thereby lowering the risk of injury.
The belt increases warmth to the region and helps reduce muscular fatigue.
Finally those who use the belt claim that there is an enhanced proprioceptive ability to feel the pressure associated with the perception of increased stability.