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Balance-Restoring Insoles

Wearable shoe inserts that improve balance

Shear-activated nanotherapeutic

Balance in humans relies on complex feedback from the senses that govern the body's mechanical stability. But with aging and diseases such as diabetes and stroke, sensory function can diminish. This can dull the feedback that normally keeps healthy people steady on their feet during standing and walking.

In the elderly, sensory loss as a result of normal aging is especially problematic. One in three people over the age of 65 fall every year. In 2009, elderly falls resulted in 2.2 million non-fatal injuries in the United States alone. By 2020, fall related health care costs in the United States are expected to reach $55 billion annually. In addition to the cost, fall-related injuries impact elderly independence, mobility, and quality of life.

The Wyss Institute Solution

Wyss Institute and Boston University researchers have discovered that random vibrations, too gentle to be felt, can improve the sensory feedback system and may restore stability through a mechanism known as "stochastic resonance". By incorporating vibrating elements in insoles and footwear, it has been shown that stochastic resonance improves balance and gait.

How it works

Mechanical actuators, designed to be inserted into any type of footwear, are embedded into the insoles. A signal generator and a small battery are also integrated within the insole to provide sensory enhancement stimulation to the user's feet. A smart phone app controls the stimulation level and can inform the user of device status, such as stimulation and battery levels. When used by elderly individuals, this sensory enhancement insole could potentially improve their sense of balance and walking stability, which is understood clinically to be related to the risk of falling. For diabetics, who suffer from peripheral neuropathy, this kind of device may increase the sensitivity of their feet and might eventually decrease the risk of ulceration.

Potential applications:

  • Improve balance in the elderly, futher resulting in fewer falls, a more active lifestyle with greater independence, lower cost of care, improved quality of life
  • Reduce the incidence of foot ulcers in diabetic patients
  • Improve the mobility of stroke sufferers
  • Accelerate rehabilitation
  • Help children with cerebral palsy
  • Improve performance of athletes (e.g., runners)
  • Workplace safety (e.g., steel workers working on tall structures)

Resource Gallery

Relevant Publication(s)

Stephen, D.G., Wilcox, B., Niemi, J.B., Franz, J.R., Kerrigan, D.C., & D’Andrea, S.E. “Baseline-dependent effect of noise-enhanced insoles on gait variability in healthy elderly walkers,” Gait & Posture, Vol 36, 537-540, 2012

Note: The technologies described on this page are currently in the research and development phase and are not available commercially. Any suggested or implied claims have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).


Andy Levine
Business Development Lead - Medical Devices/Robotics
Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University





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