man wearing lumbar support

What is Lumbar Support? Understanding Its Role in Back Health

Are you wondering what lumbar support is?

A couple of years ago, I had the same question when my doctor recommended a lumbar support brace for my chronic back pain.

So, I'm here to talk about the functions of lumbar support and give you a few tips on how to choose the best one for you. 

Just keep reading.

Key Takeaways

  • Lumbar support devices provide extra support for the lumbar region to maintain your spine's natural curve and achieve correct posture. 
  • Lumbar devices can improve common spine conditions and reduce lower back pain, but it's not a long-term solution for back issues. 
  • Always consult your health provider to see whether a lumbar support device suits your medical condition.

What Does Lumbar Support Mean?

"Lumbar" is more than a fancy word sellers use to promote their ergonomic office chairs, pillows, car seats, or braces. In fact, the lumbar is a vital part of your anatomy. 

The lumbar is located in the lower back region and consists of five vertabas. It provides stability for the spine, supports your body's weight, and acts as a point of attachment for muscles and ligaments. 

As specialists from Clevland Clinic explain, "Your lumbar spine and the muscle and ligaments that attach to them allow you to walk, run, sit, lift and move your body in all directions." (1)

So, the lumbar spine is vital for smooth and pain-free movement, and damage to this area can cause long-term pain that can decrease your quality of life.   

But what is lumbar support, and how does it work? Let's find out! 

What Is Lumbar Support?

The lumbar spine has an inward natural curve, which ensures muscle stability, flexibility, balance, weight distribution, and shock absorption.

However, studies show that sitting for extended periods of time can change the spine's natural curves, especially if you sit on a chair without back support. (2)

And even small curve changes put extra pressure on the spine, leading to poor posture, lower back pain, and other health problems in the long run. 

Some medical conditions can also make keeping the spine in a neutral position hard, increasing your risk of posture-related chronic pain.

And that's why you may need an external lumbar device to maintain a correct posture when sitting, standing, or lying. 

Usually, these devices are lumbar support pillows, lumbar rolls, braces, lumbar mattresses, etc. You can even find chairs with lumbar support built-in.

They are designed to support the lumbar region by filling the gap between the spine curve and a chair's backrest/mattress. 

Back braces with lumbar support also target the lower back region, keeping it stable and supported, no matter whether you're working or resting.

Now, let's talk about why it's crucial to consider lumbar support, especially if you have lower back problems. 

Is Lumbar Support Important? 

Proper lumbar support can make a huge difference for people who spend most of their time sitting in office chairs or those with bad posture. Here's why:

  • External lumbar supports help you maintain a healthy posture in a seated position by preserving the spinal alignment. 
  • Lumbar braces can stabilize the spine, warm the back muscles, and increase the blood flow to the lumbar region, speeding up injury healing. 
  • It can reduce muscle fatigue, prevent stiffness, and increase your comfort. According to studies, people who use lumbar pillows report higher comfort levels. (3)
  • Maintaining the spine's natural curvature provides additional support to the vertebrae and soft tissues, taking unnecessary pressure off the spine and reducing lower back pain.
  • Sleeping with a lumbar support cushion can ensure a proper posture during the night, reducing the risk of waking with muscle tension and stiffness. 

But can you use lumbar supportive devices for common back problems? Let's find out! 

What Medical Conditions Is Lumbar Support Useful For? 

According to WHO, back pain affects over 600 million people, making it one of the most common reasons for a visit to the doctor. (4)

But can you use lumbar support to relieve the discomfort? Well, it depends on what causes your lower back pain.

Dedicated lumbar support can be helpful for the following conditions:

  • Herniated disc. External support can provide compression and stability, aiding in the healing process. 
  • Sciatica. A lumbar brace can stabilize the spine, which is beneficial for sciatica pain. I recommend Stot Sports' supportive brace because it allows you to customize the level of support. 

  • Neck pain. Proper lumbar posture reduces muscle tension, making you less likely to suffer shoulder, neck, and upper body pain. 
  • Muscle spasms. Back lumbar braces provide compression, reducing muscle spasms from acute injuries.
  • Spondylolisthesis. Since your vertebrae are out of proper alignment, external support can help with muscle fatigue and maintain spine stability. 
  • Piriform syndrome. A lumbar roll or a towel can help you prevent slumping, keeping your piriformis muscle from compressing the sciatica nerve. 

I also like using lumbar pillows or rolls because they're portable, versatile, and provide optimal comfort when I sit for prolonged periods. 

However, supportive spine devices won't help you much if your discomfort is due to kidney infection, kidney stones, tumors, and other health conditions unrelated to the back. 

But can using such devices make your condition worse? You'd be surprised. 

Can Lumbar Devices Make Your Pain Worse?

According to experts from Core Chiropractic, a lumbar brace shouldn't make your back condition worse if you're using it correctly and for the right duration.

So, what does lumbar support do for lower back pain when sitting, especially for the elderly?

You can't rely on a lumbar device to maintain your natural spine curves forever. Learning to sit or stand properly without external support is vital, or you can weaken your core muscles in time.

Moreover, you must place the support in the right position to maintain and support your natural spinal curvature. Otherwise, it can make your condition worse and increase the chances of pain.

And now, let's talk about the most common types of lumbar support in office chairs.

4 Common Types Of Lumbar Support 

Lumbar braces offer excellent support for the back and are great for people who spend most of their time standing or sitting.

However, ergonomic lumbar chairs can be a lifesaver for people with sedentary jobs. So, here are the most common types of support in ergonomic chairs: 

  • Fixed Support. It refers to support fixed in the backrest, so you can't do any manual adjustments in height or depth. It's better than no support at all, but it's not the best option. 
  • Adjustable lumbar support. It allows you to make depth, firmness, or height adjustments to the support to fit your natural spine curve. 
  • Dynamic Lumbar Support. It adjusts automatically, based on your position, to provide optimal comfort and support. 
  • External support, such as a lumbar support pillow. You can also make DIY support pillows if you check this video. 

But how do you choose the best type of lumbar device for you? Let's find out! 

How to Choose the Best Lumbar Support For You? 

Since using the wrong type of lumbar support, including a back support belt for the elderly, can make back pain worse, here are a few tips to keep in mind.

#1 Look for Adjustable Lumbar Features

While all spines have an inward curve, it's slightly different in each person. So, what works for you may not work for anybody else. That's why you should choose something you can adjust to your body shape. 

#2 Consult a Specialist

I recommend consulting a medical specialist if you have lower back pain or other spine issues before you use a lumbar brace or a pillow. 

You may need a special brace to keep your spine in the correct position or additional treatment to prevent complications. 

#3 Consider the Fit

You need spine supports that contour to your natural curve to get proper stability. If the device doesn't fit, you can make your condition worse, strain your back muscles, or develop bad posture. 

When it comes to lumbar pillows, finding the right balance between comfort, firmness, and support is vital. A soft cushion keeps you comfortable but may not be enough to maintain proper posture.

Back braces should be tight but not too tight to avoid complications, while ergonomic chairs with built-in lumbar support should match your spine's curve. 

#4 Material

If you're looking for lumbar support braces, ensure the fabric is breathable. Pillows and chairs should be made from durable material so it doesn't wear down in a few months. 

#5 Price 

High-end ergonomic chairs can cost a small fortune, but you can find many inexpensive alternatives, such as pillows, rolls, and back braces. 

FAQs

1. Who needs lumbar support?

Lumbar support is best for people who spend most of their time sitting in a chair or those with lower back problems. 

2. Where do I place lumbar support?

Place the support at the small of your back above the belt line. It should fit in the gap between your spine and the backrest. 

3. What are the side effects of lumbar support?

Prolonged usage of lumbar support can lead to skin irritation and muscle weakness. Improper use can also make back pain worse. 

Conclusion

Lumbar support provides external support for the spine, making it easy to maintain its natural curves, prevent lower back pain, and increase comfort.

It's an excellent choice when you spend hours sitting or standing, but you should ensure it's the right fit for your body shape. 

What do you think about this topic? Have you ever used lumbar pillows, braces, or other supportive devices? Share your experience in the comment section. 

Resources:

1. Cleveland Clinic. Lumbar Spine: What It Is, Anatomy & Disorders [Internet]. Cleveland Clinic. 2022. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22396-lumbar-spine

2. Cho IY, Park SY, Park JH, Kim TK, Jung TW, Lee HM. The Effect of Standing and Different Sitting Positions on Lumbar Lordosis: Radiographic Study of 30 Healthy Volunteers. Asian Spine Journal. 2015;9:762.

3. Grondin DE, Triano JJ, Tran S, Soave D. The effect of a lumbar support pillow on lumbar posture and comfort during a prolonged seated task. Chiropractic & Manual Therapies. 2013;21.

4. World Health Organisation. Low back pain [Internet]. www.who.int. 2023. Available from: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/low-back-pain

5. Can Back Braces Cause Muscle Weakness? - Core Chiropractic in Bakersfield [Internet]. Core Chiropractic + Wellness. 2021. Available from: https://www.chiropractorbakersfield.com/back-pain-bakersfield/can-back-braces-cause-muscle-weakness/

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