Study of Vibrating Insoles for Balance in Multiple Sclerosis
Problems with balance and gait are two issues that face individuals who live with multiple sclerosis. Now a new pilot study is hoping to see how they might improve these challenges with the use of vibrating insoles.
Note that this study has just been funded and that it is currently in the enrollment period. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society awarded a $39,000 grant to a research team at the University of Massachusetts (UM) Amherst to explore this challenge.
The researchers will evaluate the impact of vibrating insoles both in people with multiple sclerosis and healthy controls. Participants will be between the ages of 21 and 65 and must be capable of standing and walking without assistance. Several important parameters will be measured, including muscle strength, posture, balance while standing, and skin sensation (vibration and pressure).
The vibrating insoles will emit low, undetectable frequencies and be placed in the patients’ shoes at sites the experts have determined to be the most sensitive. Participants’ response to the vibrating insoles will be analyzed under several different conditions, including an unexpected shift in one’s standing surface.
According to one of the study’s experts, Stephanie Jones of the department of kinesiology at UM, the vibrating insoles introduce “a kind of ‘noise’ that can enhance a person’s skin sensation,” and this in turn may help patients better adapt to balance impairment.
Gait and balance problems are among the most common mobility issues in MS and are associated with a number of factors. Among those factors are muscle weakness, spasticity, numbness in the feet, ataxia, and fatigue. While physical therapy, assistive devices, and some medications can be beneficial, introduction of new effective tools, such as vibrating insoles, would be welcome.
Other use of vibrating insoles
Use of vibrating insoles to improve balance has been tried before, but in different populations. One study came from the Institute for Aging Research and evaluated the insoles among the elderly. The study involved 18 elderly volunteers who had a history of falling, 18 elderly individuals without such a history, and 12 young controls. Everyone participated in several walking exercises both with and without the vibrating insoles in action. Here’s what the researchers found:
- Use of the insoles significantly reduced factors that are involved in falls, which include variability in stride, swing time, and stance, in both of the elderly groups
- The younger participants also showed some reductions in variability factors, but they were not significant
- This study was designed to determine if there was a reduction in these variables, but it was not designed to determine if those reductions can reduce the risk of falling, which needs to be studied further
Neuropathy is a problem experienced by many people with diabetes as well as those with MS. A rehabilitation center in the Netherlands looked at the use of vibrating insoles on balance in 17 people with diabetic neuropathy and 15 controls.
All the participants were tested with eyes open and eyes closed and with or without distracting factors. The vibrating insoles were turned on and off for 30 seconds at a time. Here’s what the researchers learned:
- The vibrating insoles did not have an impact on balance among the controls
- The insoles improved standing balance in the people with diabetic neuropathy but only when they were distracted
- The authors concluded that they needed to make some improvements in the use of vibrating insoles to make them more practical for this population
The concept of using vibrating insoles to improve balance and gait in people with multiple sclerosis as well as other individuals who experience imbalance and walking challenges seems to be worth pursuing, especially since it is a noninvasive, non-drug treatment option that conceivably could be available to a wide range of people. Stay tuned for the results of the vibrating insoles study from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Galica AM et al. Subsensory vibrations to the feet reduce gait variability in elderly fallers. Gait & Posture 2009 Oct; 30(3): 383-87
Hijmans JM et al. Effects of vibrating insoles on standing balance in diabetic neuropathy. Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development 2008; 45(9): 1441-49
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