Beating Duty Belt Pain: How to Relieve Lower Back Pain From Duty Belts

Lower back pain in police officers

One of the most common health complaints among police and military officers is hip and lower back pain. Among law enforcement officers, chronic back pain often results in a loss of productivity, absenteeism, or the increased use of sick leave. Additionally, there is an increase in the risk of being forced to retire early or take a desk job, cutting short their careers. Likewise, lower back pain is also a prevalent disorder among military personnel, causing disability, lost worker productivity, and increased health care costs.

The culprit? Duty belts. 

Law enforcement is a demanding job. While there can be many causes for a police officer’s pain, multiple studies have pointed to duty belts as a consistently contributing factor. Pain in the lower back, hip, and pelvis area can be caused by pressure exerted by the rigid edges of the duty belt and by the weight of the holster shank and other equipment attached to the belt.

Duty belts are typically made with a tight and rigid material, which can press on the nerves & joints. If a duty or gun belt is too tight, it can create excessive pressure on the police officer’s pelvic and hip areas. If the duty belt is too loose, it can hinder the natural body movement, such as in a foot pursuit.

The current design of leather duty belts includes buckle closures that have less adjustability than nylon belts. The adjustment holes for the buckle are placed 1.25 inches apart, which can leave the belt too loose or too tight and never the perfect fit. 

How much does a police officer’s belt weigh?

Fully loaded, a police officer’s duty belt can weigh up to 30 pounds. That includes the holster, handcuffs, gloves, a flashlight, and everything else needed for law enforcement service.

If not correctly fitted to the officer, the duty belt sagging can make the belt apply pressure to the wrong places. Officers adjust their body position constantly throughout the day because of uneven weight distribution, which can affect posture and cause pelvic imbalances. If not kept in check, this can lead to poor posture, fatigue, stress on the spine, discs, muscles, and back pain. This pain and poor posture will eventually lead to medical issues.

The Best solution? Prevent the pain from starting

Many leather belts can take several years to break in and can be restrictive to the body’s natural movement. So what if there was a better material to make duty belts from that allowed for flexibility and that can ease/prevent pain. Durable nylon with a bit of flexibility is better than rigid leather or basketweave materials.

Belt keepers or an inner belt

Officers will usually wear a duty belt and a trouser belt (also known as the inner belt). Belt keepers ensure that the duty belt stays in place by wrapping around both belts. So no matter if the officer is taking something from the belt or if they are engaging in an altercation with a suspect, their duty belt remains secure. 

Rather than using traditional belt keepers, X Belts uses velcro on both the outside of the X Under belt and the inside of the X Duty belt, keeping the duty belt securely in place.

Try an X Belt before trying one of the more awkward or dramatic options.

X Belts are designed with heavy-duty elastic material, providing long-lasting comfort and durability with flexibility and stretch. The flexible, stretching material moves with the body rather than hindering it, and the belt can support all gear without causing pain to the body.

5 ways to relieve pain from a duty belt:

Ergonomic Duty Belt Harness

An ergonomic duty belt harness can reduce the need for officers to keep reaching around for their equipment.

Duty Belt suspenders

Duty Belt suspenders can be practical because they distribute the weight of the equipment over the shoulders and chest. The belt does not have to be worn as tight, cutting down on the pressure exerted on the stomach and waist areas, although this can cause shoulder discomfort with especially heavy loads. There have been safety concerns about suspenders because they can be used against the officer in a struggle. Still, updated versions act as a clip-on tie when pulled, reducing the risk of injury to the officer.

Load-bearing vests 

Load-bearing vests contain multiple pouches over the chest and back, distributing the weight similar to suspenders.   

Adjustable padding

Adjustable padding can be added to the duty belt, supporting the hips. This can help reduce the pressure officers feel in those areas, especially for those officers who spend most of their time in patrol vehicles.

Back Braces

Another way to relieve pain from a duty belt is by using a back brace. There are versions specifically designed to hook directly to the lower back area of the belt, easing the pain in the back as an officer moves around during the day. Though they are small in design and thin, so as not to make the belt bulkier, they are not unnoticeable as there is the potential to pinch the lower back while getting into a vehicle.

Get an X Belt

The X Belt was born when the founder's left leg went numb while on-duty as a law enforcement officer. The nylon belt he designed is strong enough to hold the full weight of law enforcement duty gear, with a patent-pending "X-Belt Stretch" that allows the belt to flex with the body through movement. This simple change removes the constricting pressures that can lead to injury and absenteeism in police departments.