Category: Spine Pain | Author: Stefano Sinicropi | Date: February 11, 2019
You’ve heard of smart phones, smart watches and smart cars, but what about smart clothes? According to researchers out of Vanderbilt University, smart clothes may be the next big thing when it comes to preventing back problems and spine pain.
Back pain is the number one cause of disability and accounts for more than 264 million lost work day each year, but our clothes may soon be able to take some of the load off of our back. Researchers have developed what they call “smart underwear,” and it’s a piece of underclothing that helps to protect people from some of the stressors that can lead to back pain. When someone wearing the smart clothing leans forward or bends to pick something up, they press a button on the clothes, and some of the loading is routed through an elastic band on the clothes instead of the worker’s back muscles.
“Instead of all of the load going through your back muscles, what you can do is you can run an elastic structure, basically a spring from your shoulders down along your backside over your butt and attach it to your thighs,” said Karl Zelik, PhD, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt. “And when you lean forward or when you lift something up, some of the loading goes through the elastic band and it doesn’t go through your muscles. And that helps offload your low back.”
Smart Clothes Offload Stress
When testing the device, the team of researchers asked participants to lean forward and lift a 25-pound and 55-pound weight while holding their position at a 30-, 60- and 90-degree angle. When using the smart underwear, researchers say the device was able to reduce back muscle activity by between 14 and 43 percent.
“The clothing could almost be this kind of autonomous sidekick that helps you out when you need it and stays out of the way when it’s not needed,” said Zelik.
The team hopes to have a version of the smart underwear available for purchase in the market within the next year. They’ve also received a grant from the National Institutes of Health to help design an upgraded system that can automatically detect when the back is absorbing pressure and turn on without the individual needing to engage the device.
So if you’re constantly bending, twisting and lifting objects on the job, or you finding yourself performing some of those same actions when you’re doing the laundry or playing with your kids, keep an eye out for smart clothes in the near future. Considering back pain is the number one cause of disability in North America, we should be looking for more ways to take some of the daily stress off of our spines, and smart clothes may be that option in the not so distant future! But for now, if you’re dealing with back pain, reach out to Dr. Sinicropi to set up a consultation with his office.