Back pain is an equal-opportunity ailment. It can strike people who don’t exercise, it can develop suddenly if you bend the wrong way or trip and jar your back, and it can sideline athletes who are in great shape. Kelly Collier, a biomedical engineer, was inspired to develop posture-training braces to help people overcome back pain and change their habits to protect them against future episodes. A competitive swimmer, she knew the effects of debilitating back pain from her sport first-hand. She teamed up with Dr. Gary Chimes, M.D., Ph.D., a physical medicine and rehabilitation physician, to found ActivAided Orthotics.
The company “designs and develops biofunctional gear that optimizes posture and body mechanics,” Collier and Chimes explain. “We live in, and refuse to leave, the sweet spot of human performance, where training, healing and efficiency peak.”
They describe their ActivAided shirt as being “as close to wearable physical therapists that fiber and thread can get—our posture training products are designed to get you out of pain and back to life.” And just like an actual human physical therapist, the shirt gives your body cues to learn to correct itself. It teaches you to be aware of your body’s movements and to retrain and recondition your muscle memory. Think of it as nurturing and nudging rather than forcing a drastic change.
You start by wearing the shirt for a short time and then build up to four to eight hours a day. It can be worn under your regular clothes to be discreet, and you can continue to take part in all your activities. In fact, the creators say it’s best to use it when you’re active and that there’s no point wearing it while you’re sleeping: “ActivAided is intended to teach the body how to protect the back when gravity and daily activities put stress on the spine.” Wear the shirt when you’re doing movements that tend to make your back pain flare up, they say, so you can learn how to correct your posture and alignment to prevent future pain.
Another good time to wear the shirt is after exercise, the ActivAided inventors explain, because “your muscles are fatigued, vulnerable and more likely to fall into poor postural habits. ActivAided prevents that from happening and assists in recuperation.” It’s also helpful if you’ve been sitting or standing for a long time, putting stress on your spine (we’re thinking post-road trip).
The Elite shirt comes with a panel that you heat and then mold at home to fit your lower back (don’t worry—the company gives thorough instructions), and there’s an Rx version that requires a doctor’s prescription when you order. The Rx version has more rigid panels, but the aim is to gradually reduce reliance on those as your posture improves.
It’s really up to you how and when you use the shirt. The wearer has control over the amount of support they receive—elastic straps that wrap around the shirt apply more or less resistance depending on how much they are pulled, and the ActivAided team say you soon feel your body aligning better and becoming more balanced.