Follow Slashdot blog updates by subscribing to our blog RSS feed


Forgot your password?
Science Technology

Keeping Balance with Vibrating Shoes 160

DrLudicrous writes "The NYTimes (free registration) is running an article that summerizes a forthcoming Physical Review Letters article. The article is about how low amplitude vibrations can help a person better sense when they are off balance. The authors write that they improved the balance of senior citizens by using small vibrations in the floor, making their sense of balance like that of a 25 year old. Apparently, this background noise helps to stimulate the neurons in the feet, making them more susceptible to detecting imbalances."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Keeping Balance with Vibrating Shoes

Comments Filter:
  • by WilliamsDA ( 567274 ) <( (ta) (kred)> on Sunday November 17, 2002 @07:28PM (#4692982) Homepage
    Ivan Pavlov would be proud. :)
  • Bass (Score:5, Funny)

    by Lemmeoutada Collecti ( 588075 ) <> on Sunday November 17, 2002 @07:29PM (#4692992) Homepage Journal
    So all the BASS played in a club is so a drunk can walk around trying to pick up chicks and still stand!
  • Control of balance? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by autocracy ( 192714 ) <> on Sunday November 17, 2002 @07:30PM (#4692996) Homepage
    I was under the impression balance was primarily controlled by the inner ear... how much of an effect do your feet really have with this?
    • by Smidge204 ( 605297 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @07:36PM (#4693041) Journal
      The inner ear helps keep you HEAD straight, with the fact that anyplace your head goes your body is likely to be not far behind... inner ear problems effect balance because the brain is trying to compensate for movements that aren't really happening.

      Sensations from the feet are required to make sure they stay *under* you, thus helping to keep your head straight as well.

    • by Jafafa Hots ( 580169 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @07:54PM (#4693137) Homepage Journal
      There are a lot of things that effect balance.
      I have Meniere's disease - my vestibular system is faulty... I also have Nystagmus, involuntary eye movement... that causes balance problems.
      I also have reduced peripheral vision in various color ranges. The net result of all of this is that I can walk into a supermarket and the visual field of the aisles, combined with the lighting can send me into a sudden vertigo attack.
      I use my sense of proprioception (body position, etc) to help my balance.
      One of the important parts of therapy to try to deal with this involves having you stand on pillows, etc, to get used to balancing, as the proprioceptive signals from your feet are crucial to your overall sense of body position.
      Other things like head and arm position also have major effects.

      So many things come into play that you never think about until you lose one of the components of balance... then you notice all of the others. It's a big adjustment.
      • Just wanted to say you're amazin for going through that! thats awesome!
        kinda like a hero
        • by Jafafa Hots ( 580169 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @08:08PM (#4693209) Homepage Journal
          thanks :)

          Yes, I'm a superhero. Stumbleboy. My main super power is projectile vomiting. ;)
          • Maybe if we send a 30Hz tone directly into the floor, we can give you the added sensory data to turn you into a breakdancing, body-rocking machine. (sorry... no disrespect intended)

            BTW: do you know how the Whirling Dervishes do their thing? they spin with their heads held still, cocked at what looks like a 45 degree angle, and turned into the spin. I know that ballet dancers hold their heads still, and then whip them around 180 degrees into a spin, which helps with orientation.

            How does the Dervish method help, though? Does the inner-ear eventually ignore a constant acceleration? A friend thought that the angle would make the dancer feel like they were "rising" and help them with their balance. Looks pretty hard though.

      • I know what you're going through. My doctors have never been able to find a name for what I have come to know as cronic vertigo. I've had whatever I've had for as long as anyone can remember.

        Vertigo, for anyone who has never had it, is usualy an inner ear problem, which can leave you off balance and dizzy for days on end. The dizzyness can range from a slight light headedness to virtual blindness (like when you stand up too fast, and you get dizzy and your sight goes black for a few seconds.). On many ocasions it has caused me to black out completely.

        Thankfully this only happens 3 or 4 times a year, though it has lasted for more than 3 weeks once. My usual year involves two minor occurences (I can still function, but I try not to drive myself just to be safe), and one short, but intence occurence, (usualy so bad I can't stand to get out of bed) that lasts a day or so.

        • have you gone to an otolanryngologist? How about an ENT? Anyone ever suggest Meniere's? It's quite often missed by docs. I went to several who were clueless, and then finally went to an otolaryngologist who knew what I had the moment I walked into his office.
    • Your inner ear helps you keep track of where up and down are which way you are moving. However, as far as where your feet need to be moved to keep you upright, that is determined by what the nerves in your feet send to your brain.
    • I was also under the impression that neurons were in the BRAIN, not the FEET...
    • Yes, that is true. However, having a slightly unsteady surface (ie vibrating) to walk on "keeps you on your toes", so to speak.

      And that is how this works. On normal, solid and stable ground, the balance system "gets lazy", but by providing subtle shifts in the "ground", you force the balance system to so to speak, concentrate on what it is doing.
  • New Tech? (Score:4, Funny)

    by dolo666 ( 195584 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @07:30PM (#4692997) Journal
    The article is about how low amplitude vibrations can help a person better sense when they are off balance.
    I must use this new technology to disrupt Spiderman's Spidey Sense! Bring out the Megalatrogolagolotron!!!

    (mutters to self) It must be his weakness.
  • imagine (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    i should be able to balance really well during an earthquake.
  • Help me... (Score:5, Funny)

    by nzyank ( 623627 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @07:31PM (#4693009)
    ...I'm standing and can't fall down
  • That's interesting, but I thought balance was mostly felt and controlled by the inner ear, regardless of which body part was making surface contact. Maybe they should study the LF effects there too.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday November 17, 2002 @07:31PM (#4693012)
    making their sense of balance like that of a 25 year old

    perhaps they should qualify that with a sober 25 year old...
  • by carlcmc ( 322350 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @07:33PM (#4693024)
    Researcher 1: Hey, I've got an idea. Get this, we will VIBRATE the floor to see if we can the elderly sure footing!

    Researcher 2: *silence*

    Researcher 1: This has nothing to do with my blind-the-senior project for better visual acuity project!

  • by someguy ( 23968 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @07:34PM (#4693032)
    Current research is showing that a lot of the problems with the elderly and having accidents - vehicular or otherwise - is strongly correlated with attentional problems that they have. Their functional field of view [] suffers and, combined with other things is responsible for a lot of their problems.

    So, while this vibrational shoe may have some balance effects, it's only part of the problem that they're fixing.
    • If you read articles related to this research, it seems that what's happening here is a physical threshold effect in individual collections of peripheral neurons rather than anything happening primarily in the brain (in any case, balance control only very very rarely goes conscious - that moment, when you think 'shit, I'm going to fall over and pour this latte across the floor!') The stuff on attention is really interesting, though.
      • No, it's actually not a physical threshold effect. There's some issues there, yes. I mean, you can't completely avoid slowdown and decay in the elderly. I'm attached to a lab that's doing some research on this right now and we're finding that some training in related tasks greatly improves the UFOV constrictions. If it were a sensory issue then training wouldn't produce the jump in performance test results that are seen.
        • That's interesting, what I've read about this particular research (the vibrating floor stuff, mostly in New Scientist) suggested treshold effects were going on, but if as you say the reaction is trainable, tben yes,that does suggest a different mechanism. Hrm. I'll have to go and read the real paper now. *grin*.
    • You're thinking cars with random automatic steering to help them focus on the road ?
  • by doc_traig ( 453913 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @07:35PM (#4693036) Homepage Journal

    Now it's actually a Good Thing to crank the stereo at grandma's house. Of course, now that I think about it, it is grandma's house: the old Wallensack really can't get all that loud...

    - DDT

  • Here's another links []. I didn't feel like registering.
    I wonder if this technology could be applied to healthy individuals to allow higher than normal agility maybe for soldiers fighting in unstable enviroments where they may lose their footing.
  • by houseofmore ( 313324 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @07:38PM (#4693052) Homepage
    Balance of a 25 year old eh? I seem to recall spending a fair amount of time staggering around.

  • Think twice (Score:2, Funny)

    by dirkdidit ( 550955 )
    Next time somebody threatens to shove their foot up your ass, it may bring new sensations.
  • These brooms.. they vibrate?
  • by Stanley Feinbaum ( 622232 ) <[moc.liamtoh] [ta] [2002muabnief_retsim]> on Sunday November 17, 2002 @07:42PM (#4693075) Journal
    Bad balence be damned! When I am a senior citizen I'll be driving around in one of those cool little cart things. Isn't that the whole reason to even grow old?
  • side effects ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by tandr ( 108948 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @07:46PM (#4693099)
    But does it mean that after some time they will get used to it? And have even more problems walking on "just" a floor? Or, like with any stimulators, will they need increasing amplitude/freq over time?
  • by girl_geek_antinomy ( 626942 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @07:49PM (#4693115)
    This was in New Scientist a fortnight ago (and that on -publication- date)! What a slow pick-up... :)

    Seems it has to be random movement noise because any signal which is both repetitive and apparently irrelevant gets 'ignored' pretty quickly by the brain - after all, there's all kinds of signals coming through all the time like the feeling of your socks on your feet that you're not consciously aware of (though bet you are now, eh?).

    Also, it's not really about balance (which, people are right, is sited in the middle ear primarily) and more to do with thresholds for detection - having random movement / vibration happening anyway means that the body swaying off-balance is likely in one phase to be reinforced by the vibration enough that it goes above threshold and the body realises that there's uneven pressure in the feet and corrects it - neat, no?

    Has anyone else heard about the research into people balancing sticks on their fingertips, and how this has to do with random neuro-muscular noise, but generated by the body instead?
    • Yes, I read the NewScientist Article [] also. It seems that the random noise signal coming from the vibrating feet ocassionally makes the signals from the foot to the brain large enough to overcome a threshold they were not able to overcome without the noise. Since these signals are used for balance, this makes better balance possible.
    • Has anyone else heard about the research into people balancing sticks on their fingertips, and how this has to do with random neuro-muscular noise, but generated by the body instead?

      I'm not sure if this is what you mean, but it's possible to stabilize a pendulum (e.g., a stick) in an inverted position by vibrating the base (e.g., your hand) rapidly. Here's the first link that I could find on Google. [] It's been a while since I've dealt with the math, but I think it has something to do with the Mathieu equation [] from Floquet Theory [].
      </math lesson>
      • Coo! Yes, that is what I meant :)

        I was speaking to someone in a pub (yes, I know...) who asserted that it was possible to balance an infinite length series of flexibly connected rods on a vibrating object if only you could calculate exactly the vibration required, which we can't. It'd be very cool though, imagine the towers of balancing pencils...
        • My guess is that any frequency in a certain range would balance the connected rods, but that the range gets really small as the number of rods increases.

          You're probably right that the values would be impossible to calculate exactly, but you can still get a pretty good approximation with certain techniques.

          Which reminds me, I should get to work on my math homework :(
  • by geekguy ( 97470 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @08:02PM (#4693184)
    Combining vibrators and old people in the same article, no good can come of this.
  • "making their sense of balance like that of a 25 year old"

    Judging by most of the 25 years I know, this is not a good thing...

    Is this before or after the 1/8th of weed and three 40's of King Cobra???

  • What about an entire vibrating suit?

    It would be a crying shame if the vision were limited to "vibrating shoes."

    Kit out a wetsuit with those buzzing bad boys, and watch the elderly jump, dance, and screw like 25 year olds.

  • "Apparently, this background noise helps to stimulate the neurons in the feet, making them more susceptible to detecting imbalances."

    Damm if only i could get the neurons in my feet to learn how do dance! That'd be awesome!

  • ...who would buy one of these just for "fun" >kof kof kof<
  • Hmmm,

    I've heard that we 'see' things through tiny vibrations of our eyes... perhaps we could do the same thing to their eyeballs and make them better drivers (wider field of vison)
    • Erm.... I don't know where you learnt your sensory neurophysiology...

      Light hitting the back of the eye causes (in the roughest possible terms) a change in electrical potential in the light sensitive cells, which is transmitted down neurons in the optic nerve (as electrical pulses) into the visual cortex of the brain, where it's interpreted in exceptionally clever ways we don't really understand. No vibrations to be seen, though.
  • MS patients, seniors as well as those with vertigo related problems could really have an improved lifestyle if this works out. Come to think of it, this technology once it advances could be good as safety equipment for construction workers, bridge builders etc.
  • Ugghh, yesss...vibrating shoes. Mmmmmmmm!

    I can see it now, people walking down the street having orgasms from the shockwaves of their vibrating shoes.
  • I went on a tour of the labs at Boston University and they had a lab that was working on this. They ran a demonstration with a subject from the crowd and it really does seem to work. Their explanation was that the body needs a certain amount of 'noise' in its sensory input to work properly (as a kind of reference level).
  • Stochastic Resonance (Score:3, Informative)

    by fermion ( 181285 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @08:23PM (#4693269) Homepage Journal
    This appears to be another application Stochastic Resonance [] in which a very weak signal is enhanced by adding a bit of noise. I guess the vibrations of the floor amplify the 'signal' to the inner ear.

    Nothing new or magical in the theory, but it is a really cool application. Kudos to the researchers.

  • by NewtonsLaw ( 409638 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @08:35PM (#4693313)
    If shaking the floor makes it easier for old people to get around then does this mean that California will become the new retirement playground for senior citizens?

    California, the state where Quake is more than just a game :-)
  • all the while the vibrations make it more frustrating due to increased difficulties in making it to the bathroom on time
  • iBrator 2 ? (Score:3, Funny)

    by cwis42 ( 563232 ) <cwis@fr[ ]fr ['ee.' in gap]> on Sunday November 17, 2002 @08:40PM (#4693326)

    Oh, I see.
    This is just the next version of the iBrator [].

  • Snake Oil (Score:2, Insightful)

    by nebbian ( 564148 )
    This seems to me to be another case of the placebo effect. In other words, how to skew your experimental results by using people who "want to believe".

    Let's see, how would you do a double blind experiment with these shoes? How can you get shoes that vibrate to not let someone know that they're vibrating?

    Miracle cures like this seem to work the following way:
    1. Scientist invents theory to explain something.
    2. Inventor invents application to test theory.
    3. Researcher tests application by a small set of usually questionable experiments.
    4. Experiment is judged a success by the researcher. (Of course it is, what sort of researcher would claim a failure?)
    5. Investor funds building of these devices
    6. People buy "scientifically proven" trinkets.
    If any part of this process isn't rigorously tested, then the end result is questionable.

    The sad part of all this is that the cure actually might work, simply because the vibration tells the person that the miracle shoes are working and therefore the person will try harder to balance. After all, they bought those miracle shoes at quite a hefty price, so therefore they should be working!

    Never underestimate the value of a well-marketed placebo.
    • If any part of this process isn't rigorously tested, then the end result is questionable.

      Could be. At a technical level, magnetic media requires a bias signal to properly take a recording. At least it did. Am I showing my age?

      How you gonna prove it? Grandma's ability to better know when she's tipping over (pressure differences over the bottom of her stinky feet) could be the result of the vibrations moving the sensory devices (nerves) into their best dynamic range.

      Hard to build a placebo that doesn't achieve the same effect. Never mind that smile on grandma's face.
  • by new death barbie ( 240326 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @08:44PM (#4693346)
    I had a game a long time ago, it was one of those football games where the little plastic men all began to move around the field when you made the field vibrate. Only problem was, they basically just kind of linked arms and went in circles...

    Now I've got a picture in my head of dozens of seniors, linked arm in arm, moving helplessly
    up and down the aisles at Walmart...

    I'm sorry, I cant help's just the way I am.

  • stochastic resonance (Score:5, Interesting)

    by sanermind ( 512885 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @08:49PM (#4693363)
    It isn't the vibrational energy that is stimulating the neurons in the feet. Instead it's the additional quantity of information (that can be conveyed to the brain along aging pathways), by mixing in some noise. It may sound counterintuitive that noise can increase the resolution of a signal, but it makes sense. Imagine a signal is quantized in steps, and a sample could possibly fall between the discretely measurable points of sensitivity, and get lost. By adding noise enough to 'blur' the sample into a range that will always cross one sample boundary, then it will be detected more frequently. Even if it's blurred to cross two or three at a time, the relative activation of the seperate 'sensor nodes' allows an accurate determination of the actual quantity being sampled [given that the sampling resolution sufficiently exceeds the time resolution of changes in the actual value being sampled].
    It's called stochastic ressonance.
    It's used in some analog to digital converters, and in many other places in engineering, it's been used in electron microscopes, in radio telescopes.
    And now, it turns out, it looks like it's used in people! What is really interesting is the question of whether or not the healthy adult body actually has automatic noise generators itself, for precisely this purpose, which may have weakened in the case of the elderly.
  • These Fetishes keep getting funnier.. Vibrators on feet now!
  • ...will look like they have Parkinson's. "Whoa, you don't even have to put a quarter in her!"
  • I guess it somehow relates to the fact that one feels dizzy and looses balance when we have an ear infection?
  • Balance (Score:5, Informative)

    by sakusha ( 441986 ) on Sunday November 17, 2002 @09:06PM (#4693419)
    I could sure use some smart shoes or white-noise socks, my sense of balance is destroyed. I had an acoustic neuroma, when they remove it they cut your vestibular nerve in one ear, otherwise you have permanent vertigo. The best way I can explain it, is that my sense of balance is now mono instead of stereo. My doctor said there are three components to balance, pressure feedback through the skin, position feedback from the body and skeleton, and visual feedback. The doc said my sense of balance is now "visually dependent" so I have to be able to see clearly or I can lose my balance. When it's dark or the footing is rough or loose gravel, I stumble around like I'm drunk. This is horribly embarrasing, but more than that, it's a health risk. I took one balance test and barely passed, and I asked what it measured, the physiotherapist said it is to determine if you should use a cane or a walker. Poor scores meant a dramatically higher likelihood of broken arms, legs, and hips from falls, and subsequently, greater mortality.
    • Wow, can I join the club?

      I had dual acoustic neuromas (double the pleasure, double the fun!) and experience everything you've said. Even in well lit situations, my balance is precarious, I am able to get around usually just fine, but if I stumble, there is very little of a recovery mechanism.
      I'm definitely going to see if I can contact this guy to find out more, tho after this article, he's probably experiencing some slashdotting-like effects himself.
  • I can imagine that this technology could be great for young people as well. Especially the nerdy type slashdot crowd.

    I know I for one love to play sports and whatnot, but there is this problem of me sucking atrociously. I can run really fast, but coordination is so poor that bad things happen to me at these breakneck speeds. In fact, I can hardly even watch sports with my poor balance (4 or 5 times fallen on the bleachers this season). Shoes like this could add a lot of enjoyment to my fraternities pick up football games. Hey, we could even try intermurals next year! And us engineers would be the only frat nerdy enough to know about it!
    • by 955301 ( 209856 )
      Okay, you're not fooling anyone here. I for one am onto your plot to get a "prescription" for this vibrating shoe from your doc just so you can stick it down your pants.

      How did I catch on so fast, you ask? You admitted being an engineer, in a fraternity, playing sports, and you're reading Slashdot. Clearly a real world impossibility... And your doc will figure it out just as quickly, especially when you ask for just one shoe. So get a backup, preferably for the other foot the throw him off...

    • So...if I'm 26 I'd have the balance of what, a two-year-old?

      No thanks.
  • I am the Monarch of the Sea, I wish i had a shiny new pair of vibrating shoes.
  • I'm no expert on cars but I'm told that when a transmission is about to go, you can forestall any symptoms by putting what is basically a glue, a thickener. This causes a hideous amount of wear to the transmission, however, and will simply accelerate the breakdown, but someone giving the car a once-over or a drive will notice nothing amis.

    Anyway, what I'm driving at is what expense, if any, are they getting this performance boost? Are you essentially overclocking the neurons doing the work, causing them to just burn out that much faster?

    Further, the article states:
    "For electrical signals, the low levels of noise essentially tickle the membranes of the neurons," he said, making them more likely to fire when there is a physical stimulus of some amplitude. For mechanical signals, noise serves to boost weak stimuli. "The experiment is a good example of how noise lets a neuron fire in the company of a signal that it is normally unable to detect,'' Dr. Collins said."

    That's great, sounds like they're simply boosting the baseline so that it takes a smaller signal to breach the neuron firing threshold. Well ...what else does it effect? Does it cause hypertension? Increased irritability? I'm just really skeptical that this technique just happens to help one thing through such a relatively clumsy, non-focused method and get away with harming nothing else in the process. Drugs with only precise effects and nothing bad are more or less the holy grail of pharmaceuticals.

    Just a thought. This isn't a troll and I know even less about neuroscience than I know about cars (at least I know where to put the oil).
  • by jonr ( 1130 )
    Will these shoes give us white people soul?
  • But what I wanna know is how the hell am I supposed to fit a shoe in my pants?

    Lets hear it for vibrating cell phones and pagers!

  • see the word "vibrating". I can think of atleast one better application for this technology. :)
  • by alexburke ( 119254 ) <(ac.ekrubxela) (ta) (todhsals+xela)> on Monday November 18, 2002 @02:22AM (#4694904)
    N-n-no, darling, they're for your feet.

  • You have to have vibrations with very very low amplitude.

    Ice skates and rollerblades have a natural vibration induced by imperfections in the surfaces you are skating on. (The same can be said of skiing I expect)On some poorly maintained ice surfaces you can get a mighty bumpy ride.

    Hockey skates have recently (in the last 5-7 years) started including vibration reduction materials. As the level of vibration reduced the most noticeable effect at first is simply more comfort. That's why I bought into it, I had to be on my skates 8-12 hours a day.

    As the vibrations were reduced to unnoticeable levels I started noticing improvements in my skating, and in the skating of my students and teammates. I always thought that practice had improved our balance, but it seems possible now that the equipment played an unintended role.

    I'd love to see a study on this. Did we get an unintended benefit, or is it really just practice ? Some mix ? How much of each ?

    I'd also like to see this, if it pans out, included as a feature in skates. The most serious injuries most hockey players, especially youth players, will endure come indirectly from inadequate balance. It would make my sport safer.

    I am getting tired of seeing 13 year olds with the knees of 80 year olds after mulitiple surgeries.

  • by Alsee ( 515537 ) on Monday November 18, 2002 @09:29AM (#4696159) Homepage
    Daddy, why is Grandma sitting on the floor and smiling like that?

  • Most old folks I know have no trouble making low-pitched vibrating sounds on thier own.

Do not underestimate the value of print statements for debugging.