Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

Inflatable back support?

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
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Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Inflated claims, certainly. There are several inflatable back support/decompression contraptions on the market for $100-400 (plus countless other braces and support belts). They mostly “work” minimally by providing novel sensory input that reinforces the idea of security and stability — a sensation-aided placebo. That is, you don’t just hope that such a gadget supports or decompresses your back, it feels that way — whether it does or not, which is doubtful. Unfortunately, it also strongly encourages the insiduous idea that backs need stabilizing in the first place.

I don’t want to talk anyone out of a lovely sensation-boosted placebo: a firm, wide belt might just help your nagging back pain. But what you believe about what it’s doing for you is critical! Your belief has more power than the treatment itself, and spinal stabilization contraptions usually do more to reinforce self-defeating beliefs about spinal fragility than spines.

Readers asked, and I’ve finally delivered: there’s now a whole new section about these products in my low back pain book.