Better Balance With Vibrating Insoles

Innovative Insoles May Improve Balance for Stroke Survivors and Diabetes Patients

From the WebMD Archives

Dec. 13, 2005 -- Scientists are working on a new way to improve balance for stroke survivors and people with nerve damage from diabetes.

Their solution: vibrating insoles.

In recent tests, patients who were standing still with their eyes closed balanced better when vibratory pads were applied to their insoles.

Boston University's Attila Priplata, PhD, and colleagues describe the insoles in the Annals of Neurology.

Innovative Insoles

The insoles are made of silicone gel. They contain three vibrating elements called "tactors." Two tactors are positioned under the forefoot; one is under the heel.

The insoles were tested on 15 people with diabetes-related nerve damage and 15 stroke survivors.

The stroke patients did not have a history of diabetes or other causes of nerve damage.

Participants stood on the insoles as the researchers tweaked the insoles' vibrations. The scientists then set the vibration level just below what the participants could feel.

Subtle Buzz

Participants stood on the insoles with their eyes shut. It's harder to balance with your eyes shut because you don't have visual clues to help you stay still.

Meanwhile, the scientists turned the insoles' vibrations off and on. The vibrations were too subtle to feel, so the participants didn't know when the insoles were on.

If participants swayed, reflectors on their shoulders showed it. A motion detector tracked even the slightest sways, down to the millimeter.

Both diabetic and stroke patients swayed less when the insoles vibrated. The study shows that vibration works on patients with nerve damage in the brain (stroke patients) and nerve damage in the limbs (diabetic patients). Past tests on healthy young and elderly people had similar results, the researchers note.

The scientists aren't exactly sure how the vibrating insoles help balance.

Possibly the vibrations "can enhance the detection of pressure changes on the soles of the feet, leading to improved balance control," they write.

Next Steps

In this study, the patients stood still because the insoles couldn't yet be put in shoes.

The scientists have since figured out how to do that. They plan more tests on people who have their eyes open and who move around.

Priplata and colleagues add that it will be interesting to see if the devices help other patients with disease-related sensory loss, such as people with multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease.

WebMD Health News Reviewed by Ann Edmundson, MD, PhD on December 13, 2005

Sources

SOURCES: Priplata, A. Annals of Neurology, January 2006; vol 59. News release, Boston University.
© 2005 WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.