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Wearable Tech: Smart Clothing that May Reduce Back Pain and Injury

Newly Developed Wearable Device Can Engage to Offload Stress

An engineering team from Vanderbilt University has developed a smart, mechanized undergarment that may be of benefit in reducing the incidence of back pain and injury, according to their reported testing. The design won a Young Investigator Award last month at the Congress of the International Science of Biomechanics in Brisbane, Australia. The device contains 2 fabric sections connected by straps that engage the middle and lower back and glutes. The straps can be engaged and disengaged via a simple double tap, or wirelessly via Bluetooth on the wearer’s phone. This permits the smart garment to offload stress on the lower back during lifting tasks, yet feel like normal clothing when not activated. Aaron Yang, MD, a co-investigator at Vanderbilt University Medical Center said that in comparison to other belt and brace solutions, “This smart clothing concept is different. I see a lot of healthcare 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.”

In tests of the new device, 8 subjects lifted 25 pound and 55 pound weights while holding a forward leaning position at 30, 60, and 90 degrees. Using motion capture, force plate, and electromyography, the trial showed that the device reduced lower back extensor activity by 15% to 45% on average for each task. Principal investigator Karl Zelik, PhD, assistant professor of mechanical engineering commented, “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?”

Read a news story about the development and testing.

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