YOUR HEALTH: “Underwear” that can help your aching back

NASHVILLE, Tennessee – Researchers are looking for better ways to protect your back from the aches and pains of life.

One solution could be to change the clothes you wear.

"If you look at the statistics, it's something like 80 percent of all adults are going to develop back pain at some point of time," said Vanderbilt University mechanical engineer Karl Zelik.

That is why Zelik and his engineering team are coming to the rescue with a piece of under clothing designed to protect people from stressors that can lead to back pain.

"The basic idea is when you lift up an object, there's some amount of load that's transferred from the object down to your body through your spine and so it loads your low back."

When someone wearing smart clothing leans forward or lifts something, they tap the device and some of the loading goes through the elastic band instead of the back muscles.

NEW TECHNOLOGY:    The clothing 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.   It is designed so that users engage it only when they need it.   A simple double tap to the shirt engages the straps.   When the task is done, another double tap releases the straps so the user can sit down, and the device feels and behaves like normal clothes.   It can also be controlled by an app that the team created, users tap their phones to engage the smart clothing wirelessly via Bluetooth.

The team has tested the device in a study where they had participants lean forward and lift 25-pound and 55-pound weights while holding their position at 30, 60 and 90 degrees.

"It can reduce the back muscle activity of the lower back muscles between 14% and 43%," explained Zelik.

The team's hope is that this device can be the super suit that can limit back strain and pain.

"The clothing could almost be this kind of autonomous sidekick that helps you out when you need it and stays out of your way when it's not needed," he added.

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.

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