Heavy Lifting Research eases Back Pain on the Job

Published: July 09, 2013 | Read Time: 3 minutes

Sixty percent of America’s workforce performs regular manual labor, and one-fourth of that population suffers from occupation-related back strain, according to SUU Physical Education and Human Performance Professor Mark DeBeliso, who set out to find a remedy for the masses in pain. 

DeBeliso’s resulting study, now published in the International Journal of Science and Engineering Investigations, proves that back support belts significantly improve stresses encountered during occupational manual labor, a long debated topic of physiological versus psychological impact on one's pain management that had never actually been proven until now.

“All previous research about back support belts has been inconclusive and has never shown the scientific advantages,” said DeBeliso. “Thus it’s not surprising that previously people thought that wearing a back belt was merely a mind game, it just made you think that it was working.”

DeBeliso found that during a stoop style lift — bending at the knees and picking up an item from the ground to a standing position — supportive back belts, as their name entails, were not only supportive but also effective.

With important ramifications across the nation's workforce, DeBeliso's findings, published as "The Effects of a Back-Belt on Lumbar Disk Deformation During Stoop Type Lifting" was recently recognized with a Best Paper Award by the International Journal of Science and Engineering Investigations, stating that the research held “exceptional merit” and bore “originality, depth, quality and presentation of content.”

“I am an applied science kind of researcher, I want to solve a problem,” stated DeBeliso. “When I saw that all previous research about the effectiveness of supportive belts were inconclusive I teamed up with my fellow researchers to officially prove that supportive back belts have a positive effect for occupational laborers.”

In his study, DeBeliso collaborated with five other professors from across the world to study participants, ages 40-55, with longtime employment in a heavy industrial facility; all participants averaged 20 years of employment in the field. Each participant performed two sessions of stooped type lifting of a loaded crate (weighing 25 pounds), at four repetitions per minute for 15 minutes. One session was performed without a back support belt, the other with. DeBeliso then used fluoroscopic imaging before and after each session to see if the support belt caused any kind of compression to the lower back. There was substantially less spine decompression when a supportive back belt was employed.

And though these results weren’t shocking to the researchers, who assumed that DeBeliso’s original hypothesis would be confirmed, they do provide a solid justification for heightened standard precautions in heavy-lifting jobs.

“This is research that has yet to be done and adds further clarification to the topic,” said DeBeliso’s research partner Kent Adams, professor of kinesiology at California State University Monterrey Bay. “Many people don’t see the necessity of a back belt, or they use one ineffectively, resulting in injury. This research will reduce the economic strain that lower back injuries put on the spine of America’s workforce.”

DeBeliso's latest study follows other recent significant research in biomechanics, including his revolutionary handgrip analyzer to aid orthopedic surgeons and the anchored ankle support product, a support brace that mirrors a tape job from an athletic trainer.

Along with Adams, DeBeliso co-authored the study with Trish Sevene from California State University Monterey Bay, Chad Harris from LaGrange College in Georgia, Michael Climstein from Bond University in Queensland, Australia, and Joseph Berning from New Mexico State University.

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