The American Spinal Decompression Association estimates that low back pain or LBP affects at least 80% of us some time in our lives, and perhaps 20 to 30% of us at any given time. This could range from recurrent to subsequent experiences, and sometimes mild leading to severe. LBP is common among individuals who have a sedentary lifestyle and also those who have manual labor work.
To prevent LBP, engineers at Vanderbilt University developed a wearable biomechanical device which they believe can reduce muscle activity in the lower back by up to 45%.
The device consists of two fabric sections: for the chest and the legs, made of nylon canvas, Lycra, polyester and other materials. There are natural rubber pieces and straps across the middle back, devised to connect the chest and leg parts, which are worn in the lower back and the glutes.
Photo by Vanderbilt University
Before others will react to how this could be so inconvenient when worn, its engineers said that the device feels and behaves like normal clothing.
It could be activated only upon the user’s permission through the smart features itself or through its accompanying app.
Through tapping to the shirt twice, the straps engage. Another double tap can be made when a task such as lifting is done to release the straps.
In an experiment, 8 people were asked to lean forward and lift 25-pount and 55-pound weights while holding their position at 30, 60, and 90 degrees. It was discovered through motion capture, force plates, and electromyography that the device was able to reduce the activity in the lower back extensor muscles by an average of 15 to 45% for each task.
Video by Vanderbilt University
“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?” said Karl Zelik, assistant professor of mechanical engineering and the principal investigator on the project.
Dr Aaron Yang, another investigator on the project and a specialist in nonsurgical treatment of the back and neck at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, shared that he sees 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,” he added.
Source: The Engineer UK