What is functional apparel?
The Chief Executive Officer of AlignMed, Bill Schultz, defined it in an interview with SportTechie as “being able to validate a clinical effect on the user, which is much different than performance apparel like Nike or Under Armor, where they use sophisticated fabrics for athletes to play and workout in. We use the same fabrics, but we don’t compress them; the bands that are built in are called Neurobands.”
AlignMed is the company that is responsible for the production of the posture shirt. The posture shirt, along with the posture jacket and several other products, has helped revolutionize the world of posture alignment, along with back, neck, and shoulder pain. This shirt, along with AlignMed’s other products all help to “activate and stimulate muscles naturally to improve and correct alignment.”
With more than ten years of experiments, research, and trials, AlignMed has helped create a product with huge potential that can help change the lives of both athletes and the average working man, when it comes to correcting spinal alignment, simply by doing nothing more than wearing a shirt.
We are reminded to have good posture all the time by our parents, teachers, employers, etc, but it’s not something we pay attention to very much. Most people ignore it because it requires extra effort for us to maintain good posture, while taking on all of life’s other daily obstacles. The posture shirt prevents that because it is “a product that is usable, a product that is comfortable, and a product that you really don’t have to do anything but wear, and you don’t have to wear it all the time,” commented Schultz over the phone. This shirt is unique in that it can help correct anyone’s posture without them having to do any extra effort.
The posture shirt works by stimulating certain muscles with NeuroBands in order to cause them to contract and release properly to correct the wearer’s alignment. NeuroBands, Shultz says, are “elastic panels that are placed onto anatomy to create a physiologic effect that can be measured, and the best measurement that we can do for this is an improvement in joint alignment, or posture. Not only are these placed on specific anatomy; we do a thing called muscle mapping, so that the directional tension of these straps is in line with kinesthiology.”
These Neurobands are the reason that people have to do nothing more than wear the shirt to correct their back, neck, and shoulder pain issues; they do the work for them. The muscle-mapping done by AlignMed allows for them to match where the Neurobands needs to be placed on the person’s body, customizing each posture shirt for its owner.
During the one-on-one interview with AlignMed’s CEO, Schultz, when asked to describe the process of how he got involved with AlignMed and the posture shirt, gave a very surprising answer. This was not the typical answer one hears for why a CEO starts a company.
“I have a background in orthopedic research and distribution with a lot of startup companies that involve sports medicine, arthroscopy, and non-invasive surgery, developing instrumentation implants and procedures to be able to get the patient back to their activity as fast as possible. I have been a part of a number of successful ventures; then in my mid-40s, I experienced my own chronic pain in my lower back and neck, and I went seeking solutions of the non-surgical variety.”
He added: “There was physical, drug, and surgical therapy; some of those weren’t reactive and some weren’t working. I was referred to, by some orthopedic friends, to a local chiropractor in Southern California, who was doing some skin taping, and wanted to replicate that skin taping in a garment. He wanted to put the stretches inside a garment rather than do it on the skin. He had these form-fitting shirts that he sowed elastic bands onto. He did that to me to take relief off of my pain, and low and behold, I could feel it working immediately. I was impressed; I used it as a matter of therapy for about a month, and my back pain went away. I was impressed enough to raise money, patent the process, and start clinical studies. That was about nine or ten years ago, and, of that, was formed AlignMed.”
The science behind the posture shirt is even more interesting than the shirt itself. Since most of our muscle activity is 100 percent involuntary, AlignMed designed the shirt to be a resistance to that unconscious activity. Usually, we don’t have a constant resistance to our muscle activity unless we are working out, playing a sport, and doing some strenuous physical task. Over time, if we don’t have enough resistance to unconscious activity, we could lose the ability to control our muscles like that. That could lead to several diseases such as MS or Parkinson’s.
The posture shirt changes that, and that change creates a drastic effect on our muscles. We need muscle response all the time in our daily lives, and we don’t even realize it.
Dr. Craig Morgan, a Doctor for the Kansas City Royals organization, has delved quite deeply into the science of this product, with regards to throwing a baseball.
When a pitcher throws a lot of pitches, his muscles become weak because he is getting fatigued, and he doesn’t get the same resistance from his shoulders as he did early on in the game. This effect makes the pitcher more hittable, and hurts the team.
The posture shirt is helpful with this because: “there’s variable stretch fabrics in the back that stretch at different modules of elasticity that basically stimulates the neurons in your muscles that turns on the weak muscles; it wakes them up. It produces scapular retraction, and if you’re a pitcher, if you have maximum scapular retraction when you throw, it puts your rotator cuff muscles at their maximum mechanical advantage to do what God made them to do. If you’re a pitcher, this turns into increased velocity and a reproducible release point. If you have a reproducible release point, that means you have command of your pitchers, which means that you are going to throw your pitches where you want them to go,” Morgan shared with SportTechie.
The effects of the posture shirt in the professional sports world have been widespread. The NeuroBands’ effect has been tested at many different universities and sports medicine facilities, such as USC, Kentucky, Duke, and UNC.
These studies were done to discover just how much the posture shirt could affect joint alignment strength and increases in muscle activity. In a study conducted at USC, professional pitchers were tested in velocity and accuracy over a three-inning session to see if it would improve when wearing the shirt.
According to Schultz and PHD Tom House, there was “an increase of about 1.4 M.P.H. in speed and an increase in accuracy as well.”
AlignMed garments were measured against skin and wearing a popular compression garment. The AlignMed shirt performed better than both. It was the first study ever to validate an increase in vascularity in the arms. It was a validation of over a 5 percent increase in blood flow to the arms.
What this study aimed to prove is that the posture shirt not only helps keep muscles active and engaged, but also improves their working, conscious activity, which enhances athletic ability during game or game-like situations.
Many famous professional athletes, such as Peyton Manning, Dwight Howard, and several members of the Royals, are already using these posture shirts.
These athletes use these shirts for multiple reasons.
First, they help improve in-game performance because it increases blood flow to the muscles, decreasing the onset of fatigue for a while. Second, these shirts are key to injury prevention and more efficient injury rehabilitation. This shirt helps realign joints and posture without the patient doing a single thing except wearing it.
Schultz believes, and as all sports fans know: “The faster that you can get the athlete back to his natural form, not only is he going to heal faster, but he is going to perform better. Writers often talk about the athlete getting back to their form as referring to his good statistics, but he’s not going to have any statistics or a professional career for that matter if he doesn’t get back to his physical form.”
Dr. Felix “Buddy” Savoie has been another major contributor to the AlignMed success story. Dr. Savoie is an MD at the Tulane Institute for Sports Medicine. He works directly with the players and trainers of the Tulane Athletics programs, helping with rehabilitation, recommendations, procedures, etc, when they get hurt.
This posture shirt is being used on all of Tulane’s baseball players currently.
According to Dr. Savoie, “They practice and play in it; they love it because it cuts down on the injury rate. We just started doing the posture shirts, because when we rehabbed athletes after surgery, they were very helpful. So then, the kids wanted to use them because they wanted to stay out of surgery. So now, the idea is that we don’t want to have any more surgeries. We’ve had zero surgeries in the last few years with anyone we’ve been in contact with directly through our program.”
This kind of success at the college level could revolutionize collegiate athletics. So many athletes see their careers crash before them because of an injury before the draft or during their senior year that might have been preventable if they had corrected their posture. Any college campus all over the country can use this product and have a much lower injury and surgery rate, increasing the competitiveness and excitement of NCAA sports.
Additionally, Dr. Savoie further proved this theory through a study he did in Mississippi a while back, where he instituted the posture shirt on one program, and not on the other, to test the effect on injury rate and performance.
Pitchers that used the shirt had a drop in surgery by 90 percent and an increase of three to five miles per hour in velocity, while the non-shirt wearing group lost five miles on their pitches and had a 20 percent injury rate.
A pitcher gaining velocity on his pitches throughout the season means he will be at his peak come playoff time, instead of fatigued from the long regular season. This change would drastically impact the playoffs for any sport, especially baseball, since pitchers would be competing at a much higher level when the games matter most.
Dr. Craig Morgan of the Royals ran an interesting study on the effect of this shirt, with regards to fatigue. He took pitchers from college and high school teams and had them throw a baseball as far as they could, measuring distance and accuracy.
Most people believe that velocity is the first thing to leave a pitcher when he is tired, but it is actually his command. After throwing for a while, pitchers could still hit the same distance, but their throws were not as straight or accurate as beforehand. Dr. Morgan and his colleagues brought the players back a week later and did the same study, but this time, with each of the players fitted with the AlignMed shirt, they saw a 20 percent improvement in their command and distance, with regards to their fatigue levels.
The potential for this product is reaching new heights every day. The posture shirt can lead to a change in the world of sports, modern medicine, and everyday life. In sports, AlignMed can lead to quicker and more efficient recovery for athletes, as well as enhanced performance. The posture shirt has the possibility of being adapted in all locker rooms across the realm of sports, and should be picked up by athletic trainers as a standard use of care.
The one thing Schultz stressed when interviewing him about this shirt is the continuum of care. Continuum of care refers to the athlete, or any person for that matter, being able to treat themselves while they are not getting physical therapy. Most patients don’t continue their treatment when they go home; they return to sitting in front of a computer or texting, which will inhibit the work they have already done to correct their posture. Therefore, all that effort they just put in rehabbing their injury just went to waste, and they have that much longer of a recovery time.
Another reason that the continuum of care aspect of the posture shirt is important is that people don’t need to worry about whether they have used their medicine on a given day or done their exercises; the only thing they need to do is put on the shirt and it does the work for them.
Dr. Christian Gonzalez, the President of the American Academy for Pain Management, tells his patients (and divulged to SportTechie in a phone interview): “Put the shirt on, and it will do the work for you. There is no continuous adjustment throughout the day of your shirt or posture in order to perform better; and you’ll feel the effects of it after two hours. The key is to continue wearing it for at least two weeks so we can see if the AlignMed changes and posture changes are going to make a difference in the pain perception of this patient.” In a best case scenario, Alignmed shirts help relieve pain, and in some cases, the avoidance of the prescription of addictive pain medications.
Gary Vitti, a member of the advisory board for AlignMed and a trainer for the Los Angeles Lakers, has had a wealth of experience dealing with AlignMed and the posture shirt. When Howard tore his labrum in 2012 and had to have back surgery, Vitti suggested he use the posture shirt for rehabilitation. The shirt was able to help him get back on the court faster and allowed him to remain in games, even when his shoulder got banged up again, while he was playing. Howard has credited the posture shirt for his ability to recover quicker and remain on the court during games, where he re-aggravated his shoulder.
Vitti sees the potential for this product as something that “can help people that have developed postural distortion patterns for doing the same movements over and over again whether it’s taking 500 jump shots or sitting in front of a computer all day.” Vitti is referring to the unconscious activity in our muscles discussed above.
This effect also helps patients with Parkinson’s and MS. When scientists have looked at Parkinson’s, they have seen that patients lean forward when they lose their posture; and that’s not good, because that will only further deteriorate their posture. The posture shirt uses those NeuroBands to help keep the shoulders and neck aligned, even when the patient is not active.
This aspect of the shirt can prevent or severely reduce the pain Parkinson’s and MS patients have to go through daily, because it will help keep their spine aligned. Additionally, if patients wear this at the early stages of neck and back pain, the shirt alone could prevent the deterioration of their posture enough that Parkinson’s and MS wouldn’t be an issue for some patients anymore. Their posture would be corrected and kept in check before it even got to that stage.
These facts are what lead Dr. Gonzalez to call the posture shirt not only a treatment, but also “preventative.” He refers to it as preventative because “the treatment is to keep the muscles relaxed so that the pain rarely occurs. It prevents you for continuously changing your posture and center of gravity, which would lead to you falling and having severe back pain complications.”
The potential of this for medical purposes alone is revolutionary for the world of modern medicine and our society as a whole.
Most people probably think that the posture shirt is mainly used on athletes. While there may be a lot of athletes that use this product, the majority of patients happen to be regular, everyday working people who are suffering from severe neck or back pain. Most of the workforce in our society is in front of a computer for 40 hours every week; and that’s just at work. The simple state of being hunched over at a computer screen for that long makes everyone prone to scapular dysfunction, spinal alignment issues, as well as back and neck pain.
Dr. Joanne Halbrecht, who works at the Boulder Institute for Sports Medicine, as someone who has worked with a lot of athletes and non-athletes and the AlignMed shirt, agrees wholeheartedly with that statement. She believes that the potential of this posture shirt is on a whole other level. She has seen all the success with athletes, recording a 20 percent increase in drive distance with golfers that she has worked with; but the real potential she sees for this product is with the non-athletes. Dr. Halbrecht sees the posture shirt as more than just a tool for sports performance, but as something that many people will wear on a daily basis, particularly people who are at a job, where they are hunched over all day at a computer or desk. This product is comfortable to wear and it really corrects you.
Schultz says that AlignMed’s goal “is to both prevent athletes from injury and to help an athlete come back from injury faster, by really perfecting his posture, which is relevant to his form and joint alignment throughout the body.”
The posture shirt, and other products like it such as the jacket, is certainly accomplishing that goal for athletes and non-athletes alike. This product line of functional apparel has made huge waves in modern technology, the world of sports, and the world of medicine.