From smartphones to smart cars, it seems like everything these days is “smart” in one way or another. Now researchers are hoping to prevent spine pain, which affects roughly 80–90 percent of the population at some point, with smart clothes. Specifically, researchers believe what’s been termed “smart underwear” may be able to ease the stress that’s normally placed on the spine during certain movements. Here’s what you need to know about this new innovation that may soon be available for purchase.
Defining “Smart Clothing”
Smart undergarments are designed to take some of the direct pressure off the lower (lumbar) back by redirecting stress. In its current version, smart underwear works in the following way:
- A button is pressed when you’re planning to lean forward or bend to lift something
- An elastic band that’s part of the undergarment absorbs some of the load
- Spine-supporting muscles don’t absorb as much of the pressure from forward-leaning/bending movements, which reduces the odds of developing lower back pain related to inflamed or irritated soft tissues
Smart clothing won’t take all the stress and strain off spine-supporting muscles, but the elastic serves as a sort of spring. It takes excess spinal stress and transfers it from the shoulders and down over the backside and buttocks to the thighs.
If you’re already experiencing back pain, it’s important to have its cause diagnosed right away. Treatments can vary widely, from the application of ice and heat to physical therapy to back fusion alternatives. Los Angeles patients with severe back pain should see a spine specialist for an accurate diagnosis and a customized treatment plan.
Reducing Back Muscle Activity
Researchers put the specially designed undergarments through a test with actual subjects to determine if there was a reduction in spine-supporting muscle stress. Subjects were asked to lean forward and lift 25-pound and 55-pound weights. They were then directed to hold their forward-leaning positions at varying degrees or angles. When the smart underwear was worn while these tasks were performed, there was a noticeable reduction in spine muscle activity. This reduction in back-related stress ranged from 14 percent to just over 40 percent.
Serving as an Out-of-the-Way Assistant
The idea is that the specially designed clothing would serve as what an assistant professor of mechanical engineering who helped conduct the research refers to as an “autonomous sidekick.” In other words, it would help you out when it’s needed and stay out of the way when you’re not making movements that overstress your spine-supporting lower back muscles.
Fine-Tuning the Design
The team behind the undergarments has secured a grant to create a new and improved system that wouldn’t require the wearer to press a button. Instead, the garment would automatically be activated when it detects the spine is absorbing added pressure or stress. Smart underwear could be on the market in about a year, according to researchers.
As the leading cause of disability in North America, spine pain is definitely something worth avoiding whenever possible. Until smart clothes actually become widely available, your best bet at protecting your backbone when you twist, lift, bend, or reach is to pay attention to posture, use proper lifting techniques, and use assistive devices such as lumbar support belts.
Also, check in with your Los Angeles spine surgeon if you have spine pain that’s getting worse or not going away. The industry-leading spinal health experts at The Spine Institute have years of experience treating pain in every area of the back and neck. Schedule an appointment today by calling one of our friendly representatives at 310-828-7757.