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Paul Clinton

Paul Clinton

As the POLICE Web editor, Paul Clinton contributes posts about patrol cars, motorcycles, and other police vehicles. He previously wrote about automotive electronics as managing editor of Mobile Electronics. Prior to that, he was an award-winning newspaper reporter.



William Harvey

William Harvey

William "Bill" Harvey is currently serving as chief of police in south central Pennsylvania. He retired from the Savannah (Ga.) Police Department where he worked assignments in training, patrol, and CID. Harvey has more than 25 years of experience working with recruits, rookies, and FTOs.
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How to Handle Back Pain

Seek treatment for pain. Consider suspender-type support. Take care of your back.

November 03, 2011  |  by William Harvey - Also by this author

Back Defense Systems' Back Defender is a concealed duty belt suspension system.
Back Defense Systems' Back Defender is a concealed duty belt suspension system.

After a few decades on the job, most cops have injuries similar to those experianced by professional athletes. Because we don't have their pensions and disability clauses in our contracts, you'll want to protect your body, as well as your future.

Several years ago, a back injury and two subsequent surgeries made me take a look at my life and career. I don't care who your doctor is or what medical voodoo they do; if you ever injure your back, it's life changing.

More and more officers suffer from back injuries. We carry far too much gear around our waists. Duty belts press against our lower back while we're sitting in the cruiser. The newer patrol cars aren't as large as the road patrol monsters of years gone by. So much electronic stuff limits car cockpit space.

Here's the most sage advice I can give you. I made a critical mistake years ago, and wish I could have a "do over" in life with my back. I was a young sergeant chasing the next promotion. I got myself injured on the job; the doc gave me good medical advice and I didn't heed it. I felt if I went back for additional treatment or even surgery, my career would have been sidetracked. So I kept rubbing poultices on it and going for therapy at a local back cracker at my own expense—if the insurance doesn't pay for it that should tell you something. I gobbled every over-the-counter pain reliever and suffered for years.

Yes, I got my promotion, and ended up with the surgery anyway—twice for that matter! What's my advice? If you have a back injury, report it and do what the doctors tell you. Your career is not worth lifelong pain, suffering and possible disability.

The police equipment industry has responded to this dilemma. There are new variations of lightweight materials for the duty belt. Most departments are switching to these for more comfort and less low-back fatigue. If you have an opportunity, give these a closer look. They look professional. They can be decontaminated. Most importantly, they cut down on the weight-bearing load and belt pinch. The most comfortable level I've found is individual fit. You can adjust the hook and loop fasteners to a comfortable fit for you. You'll no longer have one belt hole that's too loose, and another that causes you to hold your breath for the night.

Years ago there were belts that were extremely wide that were portrayed as the back-relief answer. Some looked like championship belts from television wrastlin' or Elvis' motorcycle kidney belts (minus the sequins). They went away, along with the rotary phones. We now have new equipment selections.

There are some tactical suspenders that match the equipment belts and take the load off the back and hips. Several officers are using these with great results. Make sure these are made for police with break-away straps for your safety. The fashion police will get you, because you should never wear suspenders with a belt. Well, this isn't formal civilian dress! This is much akin to the load-bearing suspenders from the Vietnam era. They worked then, and get the job done now.

Lastly, take care of your back. In the gym, perform all exercises correctly and safely. If you're in this profession, you'll need to keep yourself in good shape. Don't ever give up an opportunity on the shift to stretch. Jumping out of a car from stationary to ballistic action will pull a muscle. During a shift, you may have to get out to the car to check a business. Use this as a stretching opportunity. Consult your gym trainer or call the training unit and get some stretching advice. Take time to stretch and always stay safe. 

Tags: Officer Fitness, Duty Belts, Workplace Injuries


Comments (5)

Displaying 1 - 5 of 5

mini28 @ 11/3/2011 6:38 PM

Yes, please do take care of your back. My LOD injury to mine wrecked my career and the workman's comp issues will drive you insane. Now I'm retired because of it. Life is not the same. Workman's comp will harass the crap out of you. They don't believe the pain you go through everyday. Life basically sucks. All of my brothers and sisters in blue out there "Be Safe" and take care of yourselves and each other.

Brad B @ 11/4/2011 12:22 PM

I retired on a pre set time schedule. But, not as I had intended. The years of Patrol, SWAT, and CID caught up to me the last five years of my 28. My first five years of retirement have been spent having and recovering from two major back surgeries. Now, with my life altered and a second carrer started at the training academy, I look back at the number of times I should have made an OJI report so the City would have still been covering the medical 100% instead of the standard policy. I will get by, but I know several officers who made the same mistakes that propably will not get by.

Robo66 @ 11/4/2011 4:06 PM

GOOD ARTICLE!! Unfortunately, I had the same problem, but mine was not due to an injury. Had 2 very bad discs in my lumbar region, as well as nerve compression. Ended up having a double level spinal fusion which ended a 12 yr career at 42 yrs old. Due to it not being a LOD injury, I've been fighting good old Social Security for 3 yrs now trying to get disability. So heed the warning and take care of your body. God bless and be safe out there!!

Random @ 3/25/2012 2:32 AM

1. I am sure no one will believe this will work. No one ever does. I am not a doctor. I use to work as a coach and Gym manager. I find six moth regiments of megadose liquid glucosamine and condroident reduce or eliminate cartilage issues, if alignment is professionally restored (non-surgically restored). To be clear megadose means drink them like milkshakes (the recommended dose does not repair it just maintains). Shortly after an injury, one should ice it, and then take an insed. Before the ice wears off apply ground up onion (the secret ingredient in Chinese liniment)(not chives). The onion reduces swelling and bruising. Many back issues area caused by myofascial trigger points (pleas look this term up). From what I have seen, most doctors are not educated on the existence myofascial trigger points. I find a Compex Sport elite can usually remove them when placed on the power or stretch settings. Unlike acupuncture, acupressure can often remove trigger points as well. If you live near northern California, I recommend Sen from Massage journey (I think he is the manager now) (does not speak English, just let him do his job) In the Eastridge mall for any acupressure. Also, I would recommend Bragg Family chiropractics. Mr. Bragg will put ribs back in place that you never knew were out and resolve may back issues without surgery.

2. Notes to keep in mind. Those recommend individuals I recommend are the least expensive and most skilled. They don’t necessarily work with equally skilled individuals. I find Compex sport TENS tech works, but competitors devices do not. Sadly Compex products are very expensive. If you purchase the blue European version of the Sport Elite it is 2/3 cheaper, but you will need to purchase a 15 dollar convert from target, Wal-Mart, or other such store. Also Euro sport elite are not sold on their website. Just check Amazon or Google it.

Frank Capozzi @ 7/3/2013 1:38 PM

How much does this cost and where can the suspenders be purchased? What is the cost?

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