Researchers at Rice University have developed a “Stimu Sock” that can help to treat balance issues and pain in the feet caused by diabetic neuropathy. The socks contain an insole that can provide haptic feedback if someone is overbalancing, helping them to correct things. It can also administer transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation that can help to reduce pain in the feet. The socks are linked to a smartphone app that users can access to tweak the system and find the most appropriate settings for their diabetic neuropathy. The researchers put particular effort into ensuring that the device had a low profile and was unobtrusive for wearers.
High blood glucose levels lead to peripheral neuropathy in approximately half of all patients with diabetes. These damaged nerves can cause severe pain and most commonly present in the legs and feet. They can also cause a loss of feeling and this can lead to balance issues and interfere with daily activities, such as walking.
To address this, these researchers turned to the humble sock as a vehicle for technology that can help such patients to reduce their pain and also enhance their balance. “Existing products or devices used to treat the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy are either pharmaceuticals or large at-home vibration devices users stand on,” said Abby Dowse, a researcher involved in the study. “But none of them can both treat pain and improve balance, which our device aims to do by combining the transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation and the vibrational therapy in one wearable, portable, user-controllable and easy-to-use device.”
The system includes an app through which users can modify the intensity and location of the applied treatment. “We have three regions: one in the front of the insole, one in the middle and one at the back,” said Sarah Park, another researcher that worked on the smart sock. “Our aim is to allow patients to be able to control both the amplitude of the vibration and the location where it’s delivered. Some patients might only want vibration at the front of their feet and some only at the back.”
Finally, the researchers made sure that the technology was relatively unobtrusive, so that users would not feel self conscious when using it out and about. “The intent is for the patient to be able to wear the device for the whole day,” said Yannie Guo, another researcher involved in the study. “Even when everything’s off and they don’t want the electrostimulation or haptics effect, they can still wear their device. … You don’t want it to look like you’re wearing an ankle monitor.”
See more about the technology in the video below.
The technology was presented at the Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen competition on April 13th: Wearable Electrical Stimulation and Haptics Therapy for Diabetic Neuropathy-related Foot Pain
Flashbacks: Self-Regulating Footwear for Diabetic Foot Issues; Pressure Sensing Socks Pair with Smartphones to Prevent Diabetic Neuropathy; Healing the Heels of Diabetic Patients: Interview with Orpyx Founder, Dr. Breanne Everett