Solving Back Problems with “Smart Clothing”

It might sound like something right out of a science-fiction movie – clothing designed to alleviate chronic back pain. But believe it or not, such a product might be closer to reality than you might think.

A Different Kind of Underwear

The product in question is known as “smart underwear,” and it’s being developed by a team of researchers at Vanderbilt University. So how does this cutting-edge clothing work? Allow Karl Zelik, PhD, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at Vanderbilt, to offer an explanation; “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.”

Here’s how smart clothing would work for those using it; say a person wearing this product leans forward to pick up an object. While doing this, they would tap their smart underwear, which would prompt the clothing’s elastic band to shoulder some of the loading pressure, giving some relief to the user’s lower back.

Getting a Helping Hand

Testing of smart underwear has revealed its potential effectiveness. According to Erik Lamers, a PhD student at Vanderbilt’s CREATE Lab, this product has “can reduce the back muscle activity of the lower back muscles between 14 and 43 percent.” Likewise, Zelik is very optimistic about the future of this new type of clothing. “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.”

Zelik and his team don’t plan to rest on their laurels; they hope to develop a version of smart underwear that will be available to consumers in the very near future. To help with this endeavor, the National Institutes of Health has provided Vanderbilt team with financial backing. This grant money will be used to create a better-functioning suit, one that could possibly use sensors to determine when its user is in need of lifting assistance.

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