Could ‘smart underwear’ alleviate back pain?

By Karin Lillis • Published: October 25th, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

For many people, it’s a familiar experience: The dull ache in the muscles across your back or a sharp spasm. But what if a couple taps on some high-tech underwear could help alleviate the stress of back pain?

An engineering team from Vanderbilt University has developed what they’ve dubbed a smart mechanized undergarment. The team debuted the device at the American Society of Biomechanics Conference.

How does it work? The team said the two-piece garment — a blend of nylon canvas, Lycra, polyester and other fabrics — is strapped to the middle and lower back and to the buttocks. Tap the upper part twice and the straps tighten, helping to alleviate pressure on the lower back. Tap once more, and the straps loosen.

In a study, the team asked participants to lean forward and lift 25- and 55-pound weights, while bending at 30-, 60- and 90-degree angles. Each time, the engineering team observed the smart underwear offset pressure on the lower back by 15 to 45 percent.

The American Chiropractic Association estimates that 31 million people in the United States have lower back pain at some point. It is estimated that at least 75 percent of people will experience back pain during their lives. Among working Americans, about half report lower back problems, and they spend about $50 billion annually treating the condition.

The team hopes that, eventually, there will be sensors embedded in clothing that will measure lower-back stress and engage on their own if the pressure gets too high.

The technology, one of the researchers said, is designed to reduce the stress and fatigue on lower back muscles — to keep back pain at bay.