Load bearing vests help police officers reduce back pain

Published: Feb. 9, 2021 at 8:54 PM CST
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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) - Law enforcement is a physically demanding job, and officers are prone to chronic back pain.

Police say patrol officers carry 20-25 pounds of gear when on the job, and two years ago, the department switched from their traditional utility belts to load bearing vests.

“The belts added a lot of lower back pain, some hip pain too,” says Riley McLennan with the Eau Claire Police Department.

A study in 2018 done in collaboration with UW-Eau Claire and Mayo Clinic showed switching to load bearing vests to carry things like handcuffs and other gear vital to their job, reduced that pain.

McLennan was a patrol officer for five years and says the vests help improve job performance.

“The difference between the belt and the vest was quite a big difference,” she says. “Just the weight distribution helped a ton when you put that up on the vest versus just strictly all that weight on the belt.”

When it comes to responding to calls quickly, Prevea Orthopedic Physical Therapist Mike Erickson says lingering back pain can get in the way.

“They also need to be able to get up and move right away so any low back pain that’s going to be lingering there,” he says. “They don’t have time to get out of their car, stretch, and then go do what they need to do.”

The vest’s impact also reaches beyond the job, according to Josh Miller with the Eau Claire Police Department.

“Allows for us to go home more comfortable at night and the whole point of this is to not only improve the quality of life for the officers, but hopefully save on long term health costs,” he says.

Miller says the study also prompted many police departments across the nation and around the world to make the switch.

“Simply because the benefits of what the study has shown has a lot of departments feel they can benefit from that as well,” he says.

A local study that has reached all the way around the world to help those who protect and serve our communities.

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