Pneumatic Vest - A New Lower Back Pain Treatment Option


The Orthotrac Pneumatic Vest
Lower back pain treatment—pneumatic vest
(larger view)

A general review of medical literature shows that patients with moderate or minor lower back pain symptoms often respond well to conservative (nonoperative) back care, while patients with severe, acute lower back pain occasionally require a surgical intervention rather than non-surgical treatments.

The problem for some patients, however, is that their pain and symptoms do not warrant surgery, yet they are not getting significant symptom relief from non-surgical treatments. For this group of patients, a relatively new product, called the Orthotrac Pneumatic Vest is available and research is underway to test its efficacy for patients who meet specific criteria.

Lower Back Pain Symptom Behavior

The symptoms of lower back pain (which may also include unspecific pain radiating into the leg) vary among patients, but can usually be classified as mechanical or non- mechanical. Mechanical pain refers to pain that is:

  • Worse with activities that load the spine (such as standing, walking, bending and lifting), and;
  • Better with activities that unload the spine (such as lying down or sitting in a reclining position).
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Because symptoms increase with activity many of these patients become more sedentary because of the symptom relief realized by avoiding activity. This is unfortunate because an overwhelming amount of research supports that maintaining or re-establishing functional activity is desirable for a healthy (less painful) back, and for good health in general. For those reasons inactivity and bed-rest are almost never recommended for patients with lower back pain.

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In the long run, dealing with lower back pain by avoiding activity often results in a downhill cascade of negative effects associated with a sedentary lifestyle, such as weight-gain, depression, weakness and muscle atrophy, an inability to work, and lack of enjoyment from activities of daily living.

This type of symptom behavior is typical for many patients with a variety of common lower back pain diagnoses, such as:

The Pneumatic Vest Treatment Option

A new device may enable this sub-group of patients to better participate in their daily activities by reducing their function related symptoms. The Orthotrac Pneumatic Vest, worn during functional activities, is a custom made vest that uses pneumatic lifters to “unload” some of the weight from the patient’s lumbar spine, thus simulating a state of decreased weight-bearing on the lower back. (See Figure 1.)

Patients most likely to benefit from using the Orthotrac pneumatic vest tend to meet the following four specific criteria:

  1. Lower back pain and/or leg pain symptoms that typically increase with standing or walking activities
  2. History of noticeable symptom decrease after 20 to 30 minutes of lying down
  3. The ability to stand up straight, since this is the functional position when wearing the vest
  4. Approximate waist measurement between 24 inches and 57 inches.

The purpose of this device is to relieve symptoms that are produced by weight-bearing activities and improve the patient’s ability to function. Therefore, the patient wears this device whenever he or she is experiencing symptoms during functional movement. For most patients, these symptoms are experienced during a sustained period of walking or standing.

There is no minimum wear time and most patients determine quickly which pattern of use works best for them. Currently, the only side effects that have been noted are occasional local tenderness at bony prominences of the spine and, rarely, a patient may experience temporarily increased symptoms when the vest is fully inflated.

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