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Hip and Back Pain: Is Leather Gear a Causal Factor?

NCJ Number
J D Hensley; M Whalen
Date Published
16 pages
This study examined whether the complaints of hip and lower back pain from some of the Manhattan Beach (California) police officers may be associated with the weight that leather duty belts and related gear place on the hips and back, as well as the inflexibility of the leather gear.
Questionnaires were mailed to most police and sheriff's departments across California to assess the scope of this problem. A total of 450 questionnaires were mailed, and 57 percent of them were completed and returned. The survey results are consistent with suspicions that other agencies are receiving complaints from their officers due to the weight and inflexibility of the leather duty gear. Several suggestions were offered by respondents to alleviate the problem. The most frequent suggestions were to switch from the leather gear to lighter and more flexible nylon web gear, to install special seats in patrol cars, and to provide physical education. Nylon gear is apparently the most widely used strategy in alleviating the back and hip pain. Orthopedic physicians were interviewed to obtain their opinions regarding the cause of the pain experienced by police officers. These physicians believed that the inflexibility of the leather gear was the primary cause of the reported discomfort and associated injuries to the hip area and lower back. The physicians agreed that nylon's flexibility could provide the best short-term relief. This report recommends that departments consider allowing officers the option of purchasing and wearing nylon duty gear. If law enforcement agencies decide not to allow the use of nylon gear for all officers, officer complaints of pain or discomfort should be reviewed on a case-by- case basis. Appended questionnaires for police agencies and physicians