Engineering students design a sock for treating diabetic neuropathy with TENS and vibration therapy

Engineering students from the US have invented a sock that’s bound to put a spring in the step of people living with diabetic neuropathy – a type of nerve damage that most often effects the legs and feet.

The wearable device incorporates transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) – which blocks pain signals to the brain – and vibration therapy, which provides tactile feedback to help with balance issues.

They’ve named it  StimuSock.

“Existing products or devices used to treat the symptoms of diabetic neuropathy are either pharmaceuticals or large at-home vibration devices users stand on,” says Rice University engineering student Abby Dowse, one of the inventors of the device.

“But none of them can both treat pain and improve balance, which our device aims to do by combining the TENS and the vibrational therapy in one wearable, portable, user-controllable and easy-to-use device.”

The stimussock team holding their device
StimuSock team members (clockwise, from left) Yannie Guo, Kelly Xu, Abby Dowse, Andrei Mitrofan and Sarah Park display their device. Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Up to half of all people with diabetes develop neuropathy; currently there are 1.5 million Australians living with diabetes and is projected to grow to more than 3.1 million by 2050.

The StimuSock team combined the existing therapies for neuropathy into a single device, while prioritising a user-centred design.

Insole for treating diabetic neuropathy prototype
A smart insole prototype containing vibrational haptics motors embedded in the bottom surface and TENS fabric electrodes sewn on the top surface. Credit: Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

“The intent is for the patient to be able to wear the device for the whole day,” adds engineer Yannie Guo.

“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.”

StimuSock is o be used in conjunction with a smartphone app that allows patients to control the type, intensity, and duration of the therapeutic stimulus, as well target specific areas of the foot depending on individual needs.

The sock stimulates  three regions: one in the front of the insole, one in the middle and one at the back.

Screenshots of the stimusock app
The StimuSock smartphone app has a minimalist, intuitive design that allows users to choose the type and intensity of therapeutic stimulus. Credit: StimuSock OEDK team/Rice University

The team anticipates  final  design will have enough battery life to provide the recommended maximum of four 30-minute sessions of TENS therapy per day and operate on standby for the rest of the day.

The team presented StimuSock at the annual Rice University Oshman Engineering Design Kitchen showcase on 13 April.

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