As a physical therapist, I hear about all kinds of medical devices and gadgets available on the market. Recently I was asked the following question: “Do posture correction braces work?”
My initial response, like any normal person’s, was to turn to the internet, so I immediately opened up Amazon to check out this gadget. Down the Amazon rabbit hole I went, astounded by how many braces there are for sale. No wonder people are asking whether or not posture correction braces work!
My next move was less typical: I bought the top 4 braces from Amazon so I could give each a full, physical therapist review. You can read all about my findings in another post.
But before comparing and contrasting these newfangled devices, it’s vital that I answer the initial question: do posture corrector braces work at all? No matter the quality, features, or price point, the most important thing about a new medical device is whether or not research supports what it purports to do.
Research behind Posture Correction Braces
A posture corrector brace is a medical device, typically made of a breathable fabric such as neoprene, that is worn around the shoulders and upper back. The brace is designed to stabilize the scapulae or shoulder blades from rounding forward.
In order to determine the efficacy of these braces, I consulted the research. I found an interesting study called Scapular Bracing and Alteration of Posture and Muscle Activity in Overhead Athletes With Poor Posture.
Study on Overhead Athletes
In this study, 38 healthy athletes were given a shoulder brace to improve their posture. Notably, these athletes all exhibited forward head and rounded shoulder posture, likely as a consequence of being an overhead athlete.
The Merriam Webster dictionary defines an overhead athlete as “one who uses their upper arm and shoulder in an arc overhead to propel a ball toward the opposing team.” This description may call to mind a baseball or softball pitcher, but volleyball, tennis, and football athletes fall into this category as well.
To observe any effect of the braces, the researchers measured each athlete’s Forward Head Angle (FHA) and Forward Shoulder Angle (FSA). They also used EMG (electromyographic) imaging to track specific muscle activation, both when the athletes were wearing the posture corrector brace and when they weren’t.
Results on Overhead Athletes
Based on these measurements, FSA decreased when participants wore the brace compared to when they didn’t. Wearing the brace also correlated with increased muscle activity in the lower trapezius.
This bit about muscle activation is actually really important. It means that, not only did the brace straighten up an athlete’s rounded posture, it also kicked into gear the muscles responsible for the poor posture.
For instance, the lower trapezius is a muscle in your lower back that prevents the scapulae (shoulder muscles) from rolling forward. So if you have rounded shoulders, it’s partially because your lower back muscles aren’t doing their job.
This brace encouraged better posture by straightening the shoulders and activating those lower muscles.
And that’s not all! In this study, the posture corrector brace also helped by decreasing muscle activity in the upper trapezius.
That’s a good thing, because poor posture often correlates with muscle tension in the upper back and shoulders. A lot of times I find that my patients with poor posture experience tension headaches behind the neck. They also demonstrate excessive shrugging when performing reaching tasks in the clinic.
According to this study, a posture corrector brace can decrease shrugging and upper trapezius activation with shoulder flexion. For athletes and non-athletes alike, this is a promising finding.
The study’s conclusion?
“Our results add to the theory that shoulder posture can be changed in the short term via brace application.”
Based on this data, I’d have to agree. But key to their conclusion is the phrase “in the short-term.” Braces are not meant to be relied upon for the long term.
My Take on Posture Correction Braces
As a health professional, I’m not opposed to a posture corrector brace. It might be just what the doctor ordered for someone experiencing back pain or neck pain from prolonged poor posture.
However, as a rehabilitationist, I’d rather address the source of the problem. A posture corrector brace will only treat the symptoms.
If you were my patient and you bought a posture corrector brace to relieve pain from poor posture, then I’d ultimately want to discuss with you why the pain is happening. Under my care, you would need to work at strengthening the right muscles so that the brace isn’t needed for the long term.
As evident in this study, there are many benefits to wearing a brace in the short term: after all, it can promote better posture, decrease a forward head and forward shoulder angle, and encourage your muscles to keep the shoulders in line.
However, a brace can never replace the benefits of exercise: the backbone of physical therapy!
In fact, the participants in this study completed some of the exercises I give my patients to resolve forward head posture.
Posture Corrector Brace: Quickfire Questions
Are posture corrector braces bad for you?
In the short term, no. They can actually improve your posture and encourage better muscle engagement. In the long term, relying on anything as compensation has its downsides.
How many hours a day should you wear a posture corrector?
I’d recommend wearing the brace for 15 minutes to start. Then you can work up to wearing it for an hour or so. As long as you’re not too uncomfortable, it’s generally ok to use a posture correction brace for 2-3 hours daily. However, gradual progression is best, both when you’re starting brace therapy and when you’re weaning off it.
How long does it take posture correctors to work?
Once the brace is on, you should immediately feel more upright. Over time and as comfort allows, you can work on tightening the brace and retraining your body out of the forward-head-rounded-shoulders posture. But you should supplement the brace therapy with strengthening exercises. It takes at least 6 weeks to build muscle anywhere in the body, and the back is no different.
Should you wear a posture corrector to bed?
I mean, you can, but it won’t help. That’s just like sleeping with orthotic shoes on, thinking it will help your plantar fasciitis. So while you can wear a brace to bed, you can’t fix your posture in your sleep.
How tight should a posture corrector be?
Your brace shouldn’t be so tight that it causes you pain. Rather, it should be a gentle support that encourages muscular engagement of the scapular stabilizers, not a tow strap that you tighten with a winch.
What’s the best posture corrector?
Good question – and one I’ll answer in another post. Stay tuned!