A team from Vanderbilt University believe they may have done just that with a mechanized undergarment that takes many of the advances in biomechanics and wearable technology to provide smart clothing to prevent lower back pain from emerging.
The device consists of a couple of core fabric sections that are made of a combination of Lycra, polyester and nylon canvas. The garment is designed to be warn on the chest and legs (as per the photo above), with the two sections connected by sturdy straps across the middle back.
It’s designed in such a way as to provide support only when the user needs it. This is done via a simple, double tap on the shirt to engage the straps, with another double tap then releasing the straps when the task is done. When not engaged, the kit is designed to act and feel just like regular clothes.
As with most smart clothing these days, it comes with an app that allows the user to engage the item wirelessly via the Bluetooth connection.
The garment was tested on a small pool of participants who lifted a range of packages, from 25 to 55lbs in weight in a number of different positions. The team used motion capture, force places and electromyography to monitor the impact such activities had on the lower back, and subsequently the relief the device gave to the users. The analysis revealed reduced impact of up to 45% per task.
“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?” the team say.
The aim is very much to prevent back pain from emerging rather than curing pre-existing issues, and the team believe there are particular use cases in physically onerous professions, such as in care homes.
“This smart clothing concept is different. I see a lot of health care 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,” they say.
Check out the video below to learn more about the project.