Do Posture Braces Work? The Pros, Cons and Three Alternatives to Consider
April 08, 2019
Poor posture threatens us all, especially those with sedentary jobs. Whether you hunch your neck or slump your back, the age-old advice to "sit up straight" is hard to follow if you sit all day long.
Slouching comes with consequences, and not just back pain. According to Harvard Medical School, bad posture can wreak all kinds of havoc on your body — from constipation and acid reflux to … yes, even incontinence.
You might have seen online ads on Facebook and elsewhere about braces and garments that can improve your posture. But do posture braces work? With elastic that helps redistribute strain and pressure and opens up your back and chest, they're said to moderately improve the way you walk, sit, stand and move.
But they're not ideal for everyone. These pros and cons might help you determine if you should give "posture correctors" a go. And if they're not for you, no worries: We've got a few alternatives, too.
Posture correctors come in all shapes, sizes, types and colors — from traditional back braces to electronic sensors that alert your phone when you slump. So that's one pro: You've got plenty of options to pick and choose from. Beyond that, these types of supportive garments offer a few other upsides:
- It's an opioid-free alternative to pain relief. Many people have praised the garments' ability to relieve (or at least reduce) chronic pain, something 1 in every 5 Americans live with at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That drug-free relief comes during what experts have called the "opioid epidemic," when about 1.7 million people have a substance use problem with prescription painkillers. So if you could buckle a brace around your back instead of popping a pill, it might just be worth a shot.
- There's a perceived benefit. People who wear back braces tend to think they help, which is sometimes half the battle of actually getting them to help. According to research in the Journal of Chiropractic Medicine, cyclists who tried posture shirts during a bike ride felt like they improved their posture, pain and recovery during and after their ride. The psychological powers of placebo effects are nothing to scoff about, after all.
- It can complement other therapies. Even if posture-enhancing clothing and braces don't work independently, they may fit nicely into a combination treatment plan alongside chiropractic or physical therapy. For example, one 80-year-old patient with arthritis once told the AARP Bulletin that she relied on exercises, physical therapy and a posture shirt to help her get through her days and feel "more upright and stronger."
For all the pros of posture correctors, there are a few cons to consider, too — especially if you have certain conditions or body types that make it hard to squeeze into a tight-fitting brace or garment. Those cons include:
- It can be tough to get into. One of the requirements of a posture brace is that has to fit snugly enough to alter your stance — which means it might not be ideal for people who would have difficulty fitting into it. That includes those with movement disorders like Parkinson's or essential tremor, arthritis or even obesity.
- It can be hot in the summer. The combination of triple-digit temperatures and a tight brace going up your back might make you sweaty just thinking about it. If you live in a hot climate, work outside and are prone to excessive sweating, the brace might cause more problems in the way of irritated or itchy skin.
- The research is mixed. Aside from the perceived benefit of posture correctors, the jury's still out in many ways on their actual benefit. For example, while some studies have backed up their advantages, others haven't and some have reported mixed results. Take that for what you will — but anecdotal and "perceived benefit" evidence still sits in the "pro" column.
Of course, the braces may do wonders for some people — and if they're a fit for you, by all means use them. But if they're not, these alternatives might help straighten your posture instead of — or even in combination with — wearable correctors:
- An ergonomic work setup, which could include standing desks or even active-sitting workstations like desk bikes.
- Workday meditation breaks and easy yoga poses, which can boost your mood, bust stress and — in time — yes, improve your posture, too.
- Posture exercises like chin tucks and pelvic tilts, which can train your body to stand up straight, and fast.
Do Posture Braces Work?
As of now, it seems like the verdict's still out as the jury (scientific evidence) still deliberates. But since there's never a one-size-fits-all solution for anything in health and wellness, it's worth a shot to see if you can tackle the workday with more gusto, a brighter mood and an upright stance with a posture brace. And if you try it but don't like it — don't despair.
The important thing is to improve your posture; the means to get there can vary from person to person. What works best for you?