Shoe offers stroke recovery revolution

- Learning to walk again can be the biggest challenge after a stroke.

A professor at the University of South Florida has created a shoe that could revolutionize recovery for stroke survivors.

Damage to the central nervous system can cause difficulty moving one side of the body, causing people to walk with a limp.

"As they walk, they take a smaller step and then a bigger step. That limits their ability to walk forward, to progress and walk quickly enough," said Dr. Kyle Reed, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at USF.

Dr. Reed used a 3D printer to create the Gait Enhancing Mobile Shoe, also known as GEM shoes.

The device with four curved wheels rolls a person backward on one side, forcing a longer, corrective step on the other side.

Once the body gets used to taking a bigger step with the stroke-affected leg, patients are able to walk with more symmetry when they take off the GEM shoe.

"It tends to be something that people look at, and they're a little skeptical at first," said Reed.

His research partner, physical therapist Dr. Seok Hun Kim has tested the shoe many times, both on himself and on six stroke survivors.

"It was a little awkward, but once you get used to it, it's not a big deal," said Dr. Kim.

Together, the doctors have completed clinical trials on the GEM shoe with positive results.

According to Dr. Kim, having the GEM shoe will allow patients to practice therapy outside of a physical therapist's office and improve faster.

"It's portable. You can use this device in the clinic as well as at home," said Dr. Kim.

They plan to complete a full study comparing the GEM shoe to the more traditional treadmill therapy used for stroke survivors. 

"It really has to do with independence. They want to be able to get up and go get a snack from the fridge, they want to be able to walk to the grocery store," said Dr. Reed.

For more details on the GEM shoe, visit http://reedlab.eng.usf.edu/GEMS/

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