- The smart clothing was designed to ease off stress on the back muscles.
- When tested, it reduced activity in the lower back extensor muscles by an average of 15 to 45 percent.
- The new technology should not be used for those with existing back pain rather, it is focused to reduce stress and fatigue on low back muscles.
Back pain is the second most common area of pain. The most common site for pain is the lower back because it bears the brunt of our weight and hence is more prone to get affected.
Physiotherapy, regular exercise and avoiding heavy load that puts pressure in the back are some ways to treat back pain. But is there a chance to reduce the risk of back pain?
‘Smart undergarment lessens back stress by reducing the activity in the lower back extensor muscles.’
A team of Vanderbilt University engineers have designed the wearable smart, mechanized undergarment. The underwear combines the science of biomechanics and advances in wearable technology.
Lower Back Pain
Structurally backache is a condition that usually is caused when one or more structures of the back get affected and these includes muscles, cartilage, bones or spinal cord.
Psychosocial risk factors for backache includes stress, distress, anxiety, depression, cognitive dysfunction, pain threshold, job dissatisfaction, and mental stress at work.
Back ache is more prevalent between the age of 35 and 55. The most frequent cause of our back pain are:
- Heavy physical work
- Frequent bending, twisting, lifting
- pulling and pushing
- Repetitive work
- Static postures
Karl Zelik, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and the principal investigator on the project, experienced back pain himself repeatedly lifting his toddler son, which he said got him thinking about wearable tech solutions.
Smart Clothing For Back Pain
The team have tested the clothing to stress off the load on the lower back. Eight subjects tested the device leaning forward and lifting 25-pound and 55-pound weights while holding their position at 30, 60 and 90 degrees.
The device consists of two fabric sections, made of nylon canvas, Lycra, polyester and other materials, for the chest and legs. The sections are connected by sturdy straps across the middle back, with natural rubber pieces at the lower back and glutes.
The straps engage with the shirt by a tap. Users can engage it only when they need it. After the task is done, a double tap releases the straps so the user can sit down, and the device feels and behaves like normal clothes.
The device also can be controlled by an app that the team created--users tap their phones to engage the smart clothing wirelessly via Bluetooth.
Using motion capture, force plates and electromyography, Zelik's team demonstrated that the device reduced activity in the lower back extensor muscles by an average of 15 to 45 percent for each task.
"The next idea is: Can we use sensors embedded in the clothing to monitor stress on the low back, and if it gets too high, can we automatically engage this smart clothing?" Zelik said.
Smart wear is a Prevention Tool
Dr. Aaron Yang, who specializes in nonsurgical treatment of the back and neck at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said, "People are often trying to capitalize on a huge societal problem with devices that are unproven or unviable. This smart clothing concept is different. I see a lot of health care workers or other professionals with jobs that require standing or leaning for long periods. Smart clothing may help offload some of those forces and reduce muscle fatigue."
He also stresses that the new technology should not be used for those with existing back pain rather, it is focused to reduce stress and fatigue on low back muscles.
- Karl Zelik et al., Smart underwear proven to prevent back stress with just a tap, 41st Annual Meeting of the American Society of Biomechanics (ASB) (2017).