A look at a new form of medicine that helps pro athletes like New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis keep his muscles aligned and his body in sync.
Pelicans All-Star forward Anthony Davis doesn’t wear that black base layer for fun. He wears it for his health. As does teammate Eric Gordon, NFL quarterback Tony Romo and Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz. The list of players making use of Alignmed posture products has grown recently, a sudden rise for a five-year-old product developed first for medicine and then for sports performance.
Duane Brooks, Pelicans trainer, tells SI.com that he has seen a marked difference in his players who wear the gear. “Eric Gordon had a major shoulder issue last year,” Brooks says. “Instead of surgery, he did rehab and played the rest of the season with the shirt on. This season he wants to wear it again. It aligns him properly.”
What is Alignmed?
Founder Bill Schultz took his medical background and has spent about 10 years creating products that mimic the use of kinesio taping, but with more intensity in order to stimulate activity in the muscles while also being far easier to pull on and off than tape.
Using techniques originally developed to stimulate muscles for those recovering from surgery or for older individuals to help prevent falls, Schultz targets muscles groups and transfers loads onto muscles to stimulate them.
The garment starts with a four-way stretch fabric—not a compression material—that has neurobands that run in line with “how the limbs attach to the torso and in the legs how the limbs attach to the core,” Schultz says, providing a controlled resistance on the muscles.
“We get a walking therapy on the muscles,” he says. “It is a workout you can wear.”
How does it work?
Schultz says that any trauma—from major surgery to minor in-game injuries—can imbalance joints and muscles as the healing process begins. “If you injured a knee ligament, that knee is very weak after surgery and the muscles have to get retrained,” he says. Getting the body back into symmetry is required before healing can happen. “You reduce the injury and get the joint or muscles back in place,” he says. “Now you have to sustain, you have to keep it there.”. Instead, he uses controlled resistance. “Once we get it in there, we can anchor controlled resistance and sustain it,” he says.
Tony Romo broke his collarbone. Traditional healing has most people wearing a sling until the bone heals, followed by physical therapy to get the muscles to the right length and balance. That therapy can take as long as healing the bone. Schultz says that with Romo wearing Alignmed the goal is to heal faster. Instead of wearing slings, Schultz wants Romo in “therapy over time” by helping keep his body aligned property.
“The body, an athlete, thrives on symmetry—some people call it posture,” he says. “The guys who don’t get injured as much have a symmetrical body. The number of guys hurting their hamstrings is at an all-time high. If you overwork your quads, you are going to stretch your hamstrings.”
Schultz wants athletes to be aware of those imbalances. Something as simple as sitting—such as on a long flight for a game—works only your quads. Using controlled resistance, Schultz says he can help stave off that imbalance. “Muscles love to be active,” he says. “The bands are in tension. The tension is firing the muscles.” He says the sensory system response uses that tension to tell a muscle to stretch back and forth.
Pelicans trainer on using Alignmed
The Pelicans trainer isn’t skeptical of the product at all, saying he’s seen the positive results with Davis and Gordon.
“Eric is a very picky guy,” Brooks says. “For him to say ‘Hey, I want to wear the shirt again,’ that tells me a lot. He likes the way it feels and he says he plays better in it.”
Brooks says it is the same with Davis.
As a trainer, Brooks wants his athletes with correct posture, allowing the body to move freely. He says using the shirt allows athletes to stabilize a wide range of muscles, reinforcing the work of proper exercises and therapy.
Who else is using it?
Along with players in the NBA and NFL, trainers for the pro tennis circuit have started to inquire about Alignmed. And, in the biggest coup yet for the company, the products are registered with the FDA and were classified as physical medicine, not clothing. That distinction allows Alignmed into professional locker rooms without the need for a branding agreement with the league. FDA-registered medical products can’t be kept out of locker rooms.
Brooks says that he has already helped consult on continued advancements. “We came to a place when Anthony [Davis] had an AC contusion,” Brooks says. “He was wearing the shirt and didn’t want to take it off, so we made an AC pad and put it under the shirt. Bill [Schultz] noticed that and said they could develop some parameters and sew a pocket to slide an AC pad in there.”
Those custom designs in conjunction with elite trainers for elite athletes, whether for Romo or Davis or Cruz, will help Alignmed continue to develop new products and new ways of keeping your muscles aligned.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, sneakers and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.