The Ache: While most people know they should avoid slouching, it's hard to train yourself to improve your posture.
The Claim: Specially designed "posture" shirts, with elastic bands that press on certain muscle groups, help keep the body upright, say companies that sell the shirts.
The Verdict: Wearing the shirts can reduce neck, shoulder and back pain and improve sports performance, say some physicians and athletic coaches.
In two recent studies, posture shirts led to better posture among computer users and temporarily boosted pitching speeds in a small group of major and minor league baseball players tested at a training clinic at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. The studies are preliminary and more research is needed, scientists say.
Posture shirts use elastic bands to press gently on upper back and shoulder muscles, giving them a "mini-massage" and helping to activate the muscles and prompt you to sit up straighter, says Bill Schultz, president and founder of AlignMed Inc., of Santa Ana, Calif. The shirts, including a lightweight model for $95 and a heavier one for $195, with adjustable straps that help pull the shoulders back firmly, also provide support for the core and upper back, he adds.
"A lot of patients come in with their shoulders forward and their head in the forward position," says William Stetson, a Burbank, Calif., orthopedic surgeon. The shirts, including AlignMed's and $95-to-$105 models from IntelliSkin USA, of Newport Beach, Calif., "are part of the regimen we use" to correct bad habits that can lead to pain and injury, adds Dr. Stetson, who says he has no connection to the companies.
While the shirts may help provide a boost for some, it's also important to correct the underlying issues that may be causing posture problems, such as an imbalance between strong pectoral muscles and weaker back muscles, says Timothy Sell, a physical therapist and associate professor in the department of sports medicine and nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh.
The shirts are becoming popular among professional athletes, particularly in sports that require lifting the arms overhead, such as pitching and golfing. Proper posture in those sports is critical to avoid injury and fatigue, says Roger Fredericks, a San Diego-based professional golf instructor who has begun recommending the shirts to his students.
In the USC pilot study of six professional baseball players, wearing AlignMed's shirt increased pitching speeds during the first two of three simulated innings compared with the same pitchers wearing a relaxed-fitting T-shirt, according to C. Thomas Vangsness, a professor at USC's Keck School of Medicine who presented the research last year at the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeon's annual meeting in Chicago. The difference in pitching speeds wasn't statistically significant over the entire three-inning test but there was a significant improvement in blood flow to the pitching arm as measured by ultrasound scans, says Dr. Vangsness. He says he has a small shareholder stake in AlignMed, which partially funded the study.
In an unpublished monthlong study of 95 computer users who wore the AlignMed posture shirt at a Colorado municipal utility, posture improved and users reported reduced fatigue. The study didn't have a control group that didn't use the shirts. AlignMed provided shirts, but not funding, for the study.
July 21, 2014 6:13 p.m. ET