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Sci-Tech

I wore the same shirt for a month, and now I feel better

Crave's Michael Franco puts on a "thunder shirt" every day for a month to deal with the aches and pains of sitting at a desk all day. Did it help? Read on to find out.

We writers have to deal with a lot of pain. No, not just the soul-searching, "my childhood sucked" kind of pain you often hear writers talk about. I'm referring to actual, physical pain. Tennis elbow, carpal tunnel syndrome, neck pain, low back pain, eye strain and lots of other niggling ailments descend on us as we sit at our keyboards birthing words into the world.

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The author in his Posture Shirt, aka The Thunder Shirt. (Click to enlarge.) Diane Curry

I have trouble with my elbows and shoulders, plus a stabbing pain in my upper right back. For my elbows, I was wearing two compression armbands that made me look like I was going to compete in a game of rollerball when I headed to the office. They helped a little.

Then I got the chance to try the Posture Shirt from Alignmed. The shirt is super-tight-fitting, and I felt a bit like sausage filling when I first put it on. My wife calls it my "thunder shirt" after those tight shirts you can put on dogs to keep them from being afraid of thunder.

The shirt, which is made from that Under Armour-style thick spandex fabric, highlights every curve of your torso, so unless you're Henry Cavill, it can be a bit embarrassing to wear in public (I always put a T-shirt over it). It has little metal hook-and-loop fasteners at the bottom that let you attach it over your belly for a smooth zip-up. I made frequent use of those.

The key to the shirt's effectiveness are the elastic straps built into the fabric that the company calls NeuroBand technology (think about all those tape-on straps you saw athletes wearing at the last Olympics and you get the idea). They're meant to put your body in proper alignment and cause your muscles to stay active while you wear the shirt. They're also meant to provide constant feedback about your body's position so that you automatically improve your posture. I definitely noticed this feature. There's a slight pulling when I slump -- kind of like having a kindly (or annoying) aunt behind you who pulls your shoulders back every time they roll forward.

There are other posture-supporting shirts on the market such as those made by IntelliSkin and Underworks but, as you can see in this recently released USA Today video, the Alignmed shirts have been embraced by the world of professional athletics. So that's the one I decided to try (because, you know, I'm such an athlete, ahem.)

So just how did the shirt work for me? Perfectly.

After wearing it during working hours every day for about two weeks, the pain in my back, shoulders and both elbows diminished significantly. After about another two weeks, the pain was pretty much gone. The shirt also claims to improve your energy level -- something I expected to be a dubious promise at best. But you know what? It really does. I don't quite know how that bit works, but I feel more focused and productive when I have the thing on and my body just seems more "awake."

I'll also occasionally use the shirt in the gym, and I find that I can lift a bit more with it on while avoiding some of the old injuries that always act up when I'm exercising, especially the pinched rotator cuff in my shoulder.

Aside from the occasional gym workout, I now mostly just wear the shirt a few times a month at my desk when my back acts up. After a day in the "thunder shirt" I feel pretty much back to normal. Although the tight squeeze of the shirt still makes me feel like meat in a wrapper, and the shirt is a bit itchy (which I solve by wearing a thin tank top or T-shirt under it), the slight discomfort is always worth the pain relief.

The shirts, which come in a zippered and pull-over version, retail for $95 (about £64, AU$116). There's a half-shirt version for women that costs a bit less at $85 (about £56, AU$103). They can be shipped worldwide for additional fees. Considering the visits to the chiropractor I've been able to cut out thanks to the shirt, so far it feels like money well spent.

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Alignmed