Studies using X-rays show that the posture shirt, by pulling shoulders into proper alignment, repositions the shoulder blade, opening up more space to allow it to move normally, says Mike Decker, a bioengineering researcher at the University of Denver, who conducted the studies under contract with Alignmed. Decker recently tested the shirts with 100 people who work at desk jobs in Colorado Springs. “Almost as soon as our subjects began wearing the shirts, we measured a 3.5 percent increase in lung volume, which may be a result of improved posture,” says Decker. “Over the month-long study, lung volume continued to improve.” Decker is currently reviewing data from the study to see if other measures, such as hand grip, improved.
Morgan, who serves as a sports medicine consultant with the Kansas City Royals, has been testing the posture shirt on elite athletes who experience performance problems. “In pitchers, for instance, we’ve been able to get a 15 to 18 percent increase in the power generated by a pitch when athletes wear the shirt,” he says. He suspects that the shirt could also help other athletes, including golfers, although studies haven’t been done.
McKeon, developer of the Posture-Tek shirt, has conducted studies showing that it can ease shoulder and back pain. He is currently running a study of people with neck pain at New England Baptist. Brown also has been testing his IntelliSkin shirt with researchers at the Andrews Institute of Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Pensacola. Fla., where studies with professional pitchers show that it eases pain and improves performance.
It’s all about movement
But people who aren’t especially active may stand to benefit most. Sedentary lifestyles and obesity in the U.S. have led to an epidemic of movement disorders, experts say, causing joint pain, muscle weakness and restricted range of movement. Developers of therapeutic clothing are quick to acknowledge that the best remedy is exercise. “Movement is king,” says Brown. “The more you get up and move, the less pain and stiffness you’ll feel.” And of course you don’t need a $100 shirt to stand up straighter. All you have to do is concentrate on expanding your chest and pinching your shoulder blades together and down.
But focusing on good posture takes work. Posture shirts help by gently reminding you to sit up straighter when you begin to slouch. Along the way, they help balance opposing muscles groups, making it easier to stand up straighter.
Therapeutic garments do have drawbacks. Shirts that use elastic bands to pull shoulders and spine into a more natural posture have to fit very snugly. They can be uncomfortable in hot weather and impractical for people who are very overweight. People with arthritis may have difficulty slipping into the garments. The Posture-Tek shirt, which uses a vibrating sensor, doesn’t have to fit as snugly, but it does require batteries. And though many people report feeling better after wearing posture shirts, therapeutic garments aren’t likely to be a cure-all for everyone, or for every kind of back or shoulder pain.