A simple insole could help people who've survived a stroke to regain their balance.

When someone suffers a stroke, one side of the body can be weakened, which raises the possibility of unstable walking and debilitating falls.

Physiotherapists try to help patients learn to shift their body weight slightly to the weaker side that's been affected by the stroke to regain their balance, but it doesn't always work well.

When the lower extremities and muscles are weakened after a stroke,  people often learn how not to use that side of the body, even after they've recovered a bit, said Alexander Aruin, a physical therapy professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Aruin, who has a background in engineering, invented an insole that when fitted into a patient's shoe slightly lifts and tilts the body toward the stroke-affected side to restore balance.

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Physical therapy for stroke aims to help patients learn to shift their body weight slightly to the weaker side. (Kim Kyung Hoon/Reuters)

The device is used in  conjunction with physical therapy to help people learn to bear weight equally through both legs and improve their strength and maintain balance.

In a study, Aruin's team gave the insoles to individuals with stroke for six weeks and compared them to a control group who did not receive the insoles but did do physiotherapy.

Lasting improvements

After the insoles were removed from participants' shoes on the healthy side, "they continued demonstrating improvement three months after the end of therapy," Aruin told CBC's Radio's As It Happens.

Physical therapy helped the people in both the insole and control groups, but the insole group gained a boost, the researchers found.

Compared with the control group, those who used the insoles:

  • Showed more symmetrical body weight distribution.
  • Bore more weight on their affected side.
  • Better gait velocity. 

Participants included those who just had strokes and people who had strokes more than a year earlier.

Aruin called the technique very simple and inexpensive.

The researchers have published the results in the journal ISRN Rehabilitation, and it will appear in a forthcoming issue of Topics in Stroke Rehabilitation.

While the insoles are available now, Aruin cautioned that people should see a doctor first for clearance because the device isn't appropriate for all conditions.

Precautions also need to be taken to reduce the risk of falling while walking. 

The research was funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health.