Watch CBSN Live

Underwear uses electric shock to prevent bed sores

New underpants that provide an electric shock may be able to prevent pressure sores in patients confined to bed rest.

Pressure sores, more commonly known as bed sores, are ulcers that are created when skin gets damaged from staying in one position too long. They occur in areas where the bone is close to the skin, including the ankles, back, elbows, heels and hips. People who are bedridden, use a wheelchair or unable to move are often at risk. If untreated, it can cause life-threatening infections.

"Pressure ulcers can be terribly debilitating," Robyn Warwaruk Rogers, a research nurse at the University of Calgary who also worked on the "Smart-e-Pants" trial, said to the BBC. "Their incidence has not changed since the 1940s, indicating that the current methods of prevention simply are not working. Our hope is that this innovative, clinically friendly system will eventually make a difference in the lives of millions of people."

Bed sores cost the U.S. an estimated $12 billion each year, according to the New Scientist. They are also attributed to 60,000 deaths each year, and are a direct cause of death in 7 to 8 percent of people with paraplegia.

The underpants, which were developed by researchers at Alberta Innovates - Health Solutions (AIHS), are called Smart e-Pants and look like a regular pair of bike shorts or boxer brief underwear with some additional components attached. When activated, the shorts send a mild electrical current to the person wearing them for 10 seconds every 10 minutes for up to 12 hours.

The goal is to activate the nerves and muscle and make the person slightly move, similar to how people fidget in their chairs. Oxygen and fresh blood flow is sent to the areas, and sores are not stopped from forming.

The electric shock pants were tested on 20 subjects. One of the patients, Stewart Midwinter, broke his neck paragliding in 2011.

"I've had to relearn even basic things," 56-year-old Stewart Midwinter of Calgary who broke his neck last summer in a paragliding accident, said in a press release. "I've also learned a lot about just how serious pressure sores can be for patients like me... I now face many challenges I hadn't expected, and Smart-e-Pants give me some added peace of mind."

The pants are expected to cost about $200 for the main equipment and under $100 for the electrodes, according to The Guardian. The information on the pants was presented at the Society for Neuroscience conference on Oct. 13 - 17 in New Orleans, Louisiana.

For more on the Smart e-Pants, watch the video below:

AIHS Project Smart from INDEX: Design to Improve Life® on Vimeo.