January 3, 2017

Taking NuStep in new directions

Over the coming months, look for stories that feature some of the many Wayne State initiatives and pioneering individuals committed to automotive and manufacturing innovation. This content is part of WSU's Warriors in Action campaign highlighting how Wayne State is making a difference.

If you’ve been in any type of rehabilitation center in recent years, you’ve likely seen a NuStep recumbent stepping machine. Designed and manufactured in Ann Arbor, NuStep provides a low-impact warm-up for physical therapy patients of all abilities.

Last year, NuStep donated one of its machines to the Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences so researchers could study how the machines might target specific muscles in workouts. Since then, Vicky Pardo, assistant professor of physical therapy, along with Sujay Galen, associate professor of physical therapy, and a team of graduate students have completed three studies with the Nustep.

Nustep recognized how productive the researchers were with the prototype and have now provided $40,000 for more research – which is being matched by the state of Michigan through its Small Company Innovation Program (SCIP). SCIP aims to introduce companies to the benefits of working with a university and to accelerate a company’s positive economic impact.

“With the grant money, we hope to increase the output of our lab, hire more student assistants who get research experience, and help NuStep enhance its product. It’s a win all the way around,” says Pardo.

In addition to assisting small businesses, Galen says SCIP benefits students. “As future clinicians, the chance to influence a device used in the clinic and see how it can translate to the physical therapy profession is empowering.”

Their current study is testing a prototype NuStep with more integrated technology to see how visual feedback from a digital screen might help patients. During stepping exercises, effort from each limb should be equal. But if a patient has an injury, they may have learned to compensate for it. The visual feedback can show the patient the percentage discrepancy and reteach them what it feels like to give 50-50 effort.  

“Our long-term goal is to publish an evidence-based manual so clinicians can use the NuStep not just as a warm-up device but also to help prescribe exercise more effectively,” says Pardo. “We have a limited time with patients, so we need to maximize the time we have with them and get them better faster.”