Patent application title: FOOT AND HAND EXERCISE DEVICE AND METHOD OF USE
Diane E. Dalton (Corrales, NM, US)
IPC8 Class: AA63B2102FI
Class name: Exercise devices user manipulated force resisting apparatus, component thereof, or accessory therefor utilizing resilient force resistance
Publication date: 2014-02-27
Patent application number: 20140057765
An improvement in foot and hand exercising devices featuring a
depressible elongated device placeable in the palm of a hand or under the
plantar region of a foot which can increase venous return in an aid to
avoiding deep venous thrombosis (DVT) and resulting pulmonary embolism
(PE), stroke, and edema. The depressible device reduces chance of foot or
hand injury and improves the comfort of the user. The device can also be
used for stretching the plantar tendons and thereby reducing foot pain.
1. An exerciser comprising: a depressible elongated body; wherein said
elongated body has a length, a width and a depth; wherein said length of
said elongated body is greater than said width; wherein said width is
approximately equal or less than a length of an arch of a normal human
foot; and wherein said depth is approximately slightly greater than the
height of a normal arch of a foot.
2. The exerciser of claim 1 wherein said elongated body is comprised entirely of depressible material.
3. The exerciser of claim 1 wherein Said elongated body is comprised of a depressible material disposed on an upper surface of said elongated body and a rigid material.
4. The exerciser of claim 3 wherein said elongated body has at least four sides and wherein a depressible material is disposed on said upper surface of said elongated body and at least two sides of said elongated body.
5. The exerciser of claim 1 additionally comprising a core.
6. The exerciser of claim 5 wherein said core is hollow.
7. The exerciser of claim 5 wherein said core is comprised of a rigid material.
8. The exerciser of claim 7 wherein said core Is disposed in a group of structures selected from lattice and honeycomb.
9. The exerciser of claim 7 wherein said rigid material is selected from the group consisting of metal, wood, plastic, and weighted materials.
10. The exerciser of claim 5 wherein a depressible covering is disposed over said core.
11. The exerciser of claim 5 wherein said core is comprised of at least one spring.
12. The exerciser of claim 1 additionally comprising rounded edges adjoining an upper surface and at least four sides and a lower surface adjoining said at least four sides.
13. The exerciser of claim 1 wherein said elongated body is comprised of a depressible material wherein said depressible material is selected from the group consisting of plastics, foam, and rubber.
14. The exerciser of claim 13 wherein said depressible material is a visco-elastic polymer.
15. The exerciser of claim 1 additionally comprising a strap.
16. The exerciser of claim 15 wherein said strap is comprised of an elastic material.
17. The exerciser of claim 15 wherein said strap additionally comprises a fastener.
19. A method of exercising with a depressible exerciser comprising the following steps: placing the exerciser under either the bell of the foot or the plantar region of the foot; placing the exerciser in a fixed or successive progressive locations of the foot, front to back or back to front; and raising the heel or the toe ball portion of the foot up and down while pressing the foot down over the exerciser.
21. A method of exercising with a depressible exerciser comprising the following steps: placing the exerciser in the palm of the hand; and squeezing the exerciser.
 This application claims priority from U.S. Provisional Application Ser. No. 61/38,446 filed on Sep. 24, 2010, "Portable Exercise Device for Deep Vein Thrombosis Prevention and for Isometric Exercise." The specification and drawings of this application is herein incorporated by reference into the present application.
FIELD OF THE INVENTION
 The present invention pertains to foot exercise devices and their methods of use, and more specifically to new features that improve blood flow for the prevention of Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT) and other circulatory diseases and for isometric exercise of the foot and ankle for improved stretching of the tendons and muscles in the foot and ankle.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
 Approximately 2 million people in the United States suffer from deep vein thrombosis (DVT). DVT occurs when blood clots form in deep veins, usually in the legs, and can cause pulmonary embolism (PE) if the clot travels to the lungs and blocks one of the main arteries there. PE kills up to 300,000 people a year in the U.S. Surprisingly, this is more than the number of breast cancer deaths annually, showing the severity of the need for an easy to use device that will help avoid the deadly complications of DVT which can have other complications, including embolisms in the brain (strokes).
 Prevention of DVT is even more important for individuals with certain other diseases. Recent data suggest that patients with a cancer malignancy have a seven-fold increase in risk for venous thromboembolism (VTE) compared with those without cancer. However, DVT is not limited only to those with cancer. All individuals who must sit for extended periods of time, such as during long distance travel, office work, or for persons with restricted mobility, are at risk and therefore need the intervention of an exercise regimen in order to lower their chances of DVT. DVT is usually preventable by increasing exercise, particularly walking, or taking blood thinners. However, there are many who cannot take blood thinners for medical reasons, and others who cannot get the needed exercise by walking around in order to prevent the disorder. Alternative methods are needed to increase circulation in the legs to prevent DVT/PE in these people.
 DVT is not the only problem that presents a specific need that can be addressed by the present invention. Lowered circulation, or reduced venous return, often results in swelling or edema. Edema remains one of the most common causes of hand stiffness. Therefore, increasing venous return through use of the instant device can surprisingly result in reduced stiffness and pain in other areas of the body, and in particular, the hands.
 Additionally, many individuals suffer from plantar fasciitis. The non-elasticity of the tendons in the foot can cause extremely painful sensation in individuals with the condition. Research has shown that regular stretching of the tendons in the foot can decrease pain. Other conditions with symptoms similar to plantar fasciitis, such as certain foot injuries, can also benefit from increased circulation and pain reduction.
 It is desirable to construct an exercise device and provide a method for its use in order to prevent reduced venous return. An ideal device to prevent reduced venous return will apply pressure to the plantar region of the foot, causing the calf muscles to contract and also be usable for exercise of the hands by applying pressure to the palm of the hands (area where venous pumping occurs). The device should be easy to use and be small in size for easy transport between locations.
 It has long been known in the art that acupressure, stretching, and rubbing in the arch and toe areas of the foot provides some relief from foot pain. U.S. Pat. No. 1,981,379 to Thomson et al. (1934) discloses an exercise board featuring two sets of raised protrusions: one set smaller, one set larger, paired with their opposites. The device requires a user to place the arch of his foot over the larger protrusion and the ball of his foot over the small protrusion, and step on the protrusions in a rocking manner from arch (heel) to ball in order to "correct fallen arches, strengthen the bony structure of the foot, and build and strengthen foot and leg muscles." U.S. Pat. No. 4,329,981 to Dungl (1982) is an improvement upon this design, disclosing a foot massage mat utilizing distributed protrusions wherein the heel and toe ball rest in depressions of the mat and the arch and toes rest atop the protrusions to stretch the foot realizing an "improvement of the blood circulation." The mat of the Dungl patent was designed for use in physical exercises, and to form interlocking mats to cover a large surface. The references do not describe any related ankle exercise or anything that would stimulate venous return, but seem to focus only on massage to stretch the foot. A similar concept to these, updated in U.S. application Ser. No. 10/732,946 to Williams (2003) involved such a surface with protrusions distributed on a raised platform, inclined upon an angle for a seated user to place his foot upon, rubbing them across the surface. Williams does seek to provide an angle which might stimulate venous return, but rather focuses on surface massage of the foot.
 More recent references have directed attention to providing devices that can reduce instances of DVT through exercise of the ankle/foot area and thereby stimulating the venous pump effect of this area. This has particularly come to light with the increased media attention to PE resulting from DVT associated with long flights. An early device was disclosed in 1966 in U.S. Pat. No. 3,361,247 to Paves. That patent disclosed a bi-directional exercise rocker which focused mainly on "leg exercises". This device has seen a myriad of improvements, including U.S. Pat. No. 6,569,213 to Busch (2003) disclosing an orthopaedic pedal, utilizing tilt movement similar to the Paves device, but featuring a solid foundation that could be utilized from a seated position, and not a device requiring a user to stand on an unstable device that could cause falls. Another invention, following the Paves model was disclosed by U.S. Pat. No. 5,653,164 to Teff (1997) and its improvement by the same inventor in U.S. Pat. No. 6,942,604 (2005). Teff disclosed a rocking device similar to the Paves device, but unidirectional, thereby eliminating some instability, and utilizing a centrally mounted hemisphere which, when the rocker is inverted to place its flat surface on the floor, a user could then place his foot over the hemisphere and stretch his foot across it. The 2005 improvement featured the addition of straps to allow a user to engage in flexion stretches.
 Other devices, attempted to address the problem by utilizing electrical stimulation or direct manipulation of the leg position or muscles to increase blood flow. U.S. patent application Ser. No. 11/932,799 to Horst et al. (2007) disclose a DVT prevention apparatus that features a leg brace-type apparatus that manually manipulates the leg/foot position in order to stimulate the muscles and therefore blood flow. U.S. Pat. No. 5,643,331 to Katz (1997) discloses an electrical stimulator that stimulates the nerve in the area to cause muscle contraction and thereby stimulate blood flow.
 Other newer approaches, utilizing the lessons of their forebears, attempt to directly address the problem of inactivity on planes. U.S. patent Application Ser. No. 09/982,341 to Winkler (2001) discloses an adaptation to an airline or other stable seat by utilizing a vertical extension from the seat to a spring-activated horizontal platform extending therefrom. The user rocks the horizontal platform up and down, contracting the calf muscles and flexing the ankles, thereby increasing circulation. A different approach, found in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/868,993 to Cardarelli (2004) utilizes, again a vertical extension from a seat, however set at an inclined, braced angle, with a fixed platform extending horizontally therefrom. Disposed upon the vertical and horizontal surfaces are raised depressible projections. A user removes his shoes and places his heel along the inclined vertical surface and toes on the horizontal surface, pressing down. The action stretches the foot and the projections provide massaging action.
 Perhaps most interesting are the devices incorporated into shoes. Everyone is familiar with the raised soles in shoes, raised to meet the arch of one's foot. The shoe disclosed in U.S. Pat. No. 7,278,227 to Masoodifar (2007) sets out a shoe having a non-linear base wherein the sole of the shoe extends down under the ball of the foot to require an increased rocking action of the foot while walking. In U.S. Pat. No. 3,859,727 to Nakamoto (1975), a similar if more extreme idea was disclosed wherein the shoe had an obtuse angled sole with the point of the angle slightly behind the ball of the foot, again, extending the rocking action of the foot while walking. The design of these shoes is familiarly seen today with more rounded soled rocking exercise shoes typically seen in use all over America.
 While these more complicated devices have been employed, it is clear that there is a need for a simpler device that is easily transported and used. Some inventors have taken a simpler route. U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/113,195 to Flynn (2002) described an exercise device having an upper and lower panel, hinged along the sides and with perpendicularly placed "forming panels" positioned to cause the upper and lower panels to form at least one curved surface, and wherein the forming panels could be displaced to flatten the exerciser. The user would place the exerciser on a surface, stand on it and rock one's heels and toes back and forth in order to rock the device. A smaller, non-collapsible version of the device appeared in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/494,118 to McKenzie (2005) and again by the same inventor in U.S. patent application Ser. No. 12/962,073 in 2010. The McKenzie device featured a small rigid ovoid cylinder made to fit under a single foot of the user, wherein the user would rock his toes back and forth over the cylinder.
 However, many people with foot and/or circulation problems are easily bruised, and any bruising can lead to further complications (for example from diabetic neuropathy). What is missing from the prior art is a small, simple, easily portable device that is stable (unlike the step-upon device in Flynn) which is depressible for comfort unlike Flynn and McKenzie that still provides enough resiliency to provide acupressure against the foot and a stable enough surface to stretch the foot and allow a user to perform exercises by rocking the foot across the device. Further, it is desirable that the device be in a size and depressible state suitable for use in the hand as well as for use with the foot. Such a device does not exist currently in the art.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
 The accompanying drawings, which are incorporated into and form a part of the specification, illustrate several embodiments of the present invention and, together with the description, serve to explain the principles of the invention. The drawings are only for the purpose of illustrating a preferred embodiment of the invention and are not to be construed as limiting the invention. In the drawings:
 FIG. 1 depicts a preferred rectangular embodiment of the exercise device of the present invention, showing rounded side edges and blunt ends;
 FIG. 1a depicts a preferred embodiment of the exercise device of the present invention, showing rounded edges and rounded ends;
 FIG. 2 is a cross-sectional view of an alternative embodiment of the exercise device depicting a core of the device comprised of a different material than the exterior of the device.
 FIG. 3 is a side view of an embodiment of the exercise device of the present invention displaying the use of a strap integral or applied to the device to attach the device to a user's foot;
 FIG. 4a depicts use of the exercise device of the current invention by compressing the invention under the sole of the foot, in this case, in the plantar venous region of the foot.
 FIG. 4b depicts use of the exercise device of the current invention by bracing the foot against the device and raising the foot up and down anterior to the device to effect dorsi flexion of the foot thereby causing relaxation of the muscle of the calf;
 FIG. 4c depicts use of the exercise device of the current invention by bracing the foot against the device in the ball region of the foot and raising the heel up and down for plantar flexion of the foot thereby causing compression of the muscle of the calf;
 FIG. 5 is depicts use of the exercise device of the current invention by placing the device on the palm and closing a fist around the device, and squeezing to compress the palm of the hand.
 FIG. 6 depicts an alternative embodiment of the exercise device depicting a rod shape;
 FIG. 7 is a side view of an alternative embodiment of the exercise device depicting a solid upper and lower section joined by coil springs (showing an open version of the embodiment); and
 FIG. 8 is a side view of an alternative embodiment of the exercise device depicting a solid upper and lower section joined by wave springs (showing an open version of the embodiment).
DESCRIPTION OF A PREFERRED EMBODIMENT
 The present invention comprises an improvement for foot and hand exercise devices, as described more fully hereinafter. This invention, may, however, be embodied in different forms and is not limited to the embodiments set forth herein, but the embodiments are set forth only to ensure that those skilled in the art will be enabled in applying the invention.
 The terminology as set forth herein is for description of the embodiments only and should not be construed as limiting of the invention as a whole. As used in the description of the invention and the appended claims, the singular forms "a", "an", and "the" are inclusive of their plural forms, unless contraindicated by the context surrounding such.
 All technical and scientific terms used herein have the commonly understood meaning of one skilled in the art. All publications, patent applications, patents and other references disclosed herein are incorporated by reference in their entirety.
 The present invention is an exerciser 10 comprising an elongated body 12 having a compressible or depressible upper surface 14, a lower surface 16 that is preferably compressible but could be rigid, and side surfaces or side regions 18 that are preferably compressible. It is preferred that the entire device be compressible or depressible, however the depressibility can be limited to one or more surfaces. It is preferred that the compressibility be associated with a material having "memory" sufficient to allow the material to immediately return to its original configuration once pressure is removed. Additionally, the exerciser will be sized to allow the comfortable use of the device in conjunction with normal hand and foot sizes. The length of the device is preferably greater than the width of the device and should comfortably span over the width of a normal person's foot, and the width of the device should be approximately or slightly less than the span of the arch of an normal foot. The depth or height of the device should be slightly greater than the height of the arch of a normal foot. One suitable sizing example, is a length of 4'', a width of 11/2, and a depth of 1''. This is by no means limiting of a suitable size of the device, and a variation by as much as a few inches, and in particular several inches with regard to the length of the device is foreseeable. (For example, the device could be sized to accommodate both feet at once by extending the length.) However, it is preferred that the length be between approximately 3'' and 4'', and that the depth be between approximately 1/2'' and 1'', and the width between approximately 1/2'' and 2'' although, as mentioned, small variations within a few inches are acceptable. This variation span will allow for different sizes of the device to be made in order to allow individuals with varying foot sizes to be comfortably accommodated.
 The exerciser in the invention is preferably a rod-shaped bar 12 as shown in FIG. 1, having a flat lower surface 16, that when in use as a foot exerciser, can be placed in contact with a floor or other flat surface, and preferably an opposing flat upper surface 14 which would be placed against the foot or hand in use. It is anticipated that the design of the exerciser could be altered slightly to allow for a convex curve, on the upper surface, to allow for additional pressure to be applied to the plantar and other regions of the foot.
 The exerciser is comprised of a depressible or compressible (hereinafter referred to only as depressible) material such as a dense plastic, foam, or rubber with good rebound as is known in the art. It is preferred that the material be used be Sorbothane® or a similar class of material. Sorbothane® is a visco-elastic polymer that is a thermoset, polyether-based, polyurethane material. It combines shock absorption, good memory, vibration isolation and vibration damping characteristics.
 The depressibility of the device should be limited to less than one-half and preferably one quarter of the original conformation of the device in order to provide sufficient rebound pressure to the desired region of the body. However, the depressibility should be measurable against the average pressure applied by an individual in order to provide some cushion to the applied area and prevent possible injury that a wholly rigid device might cause.
 In alternate embodiments, a solid core of a suitably rigid material such as a metal, wood, rigid plastics or other suitable materials known in the art can be disposed within the device in order to provide additional resistance, particularly when utilized with a "softer" covering instead of a sufficiently dense depressible material that would be suitable to provide resistance on its own. Alternately, the rigid material of the core could form a hollow or honeycombed or latticed structure so long as it provides sufficient rigidity to return the device to its initial form.
 Alternate embodiments of slightly different external configuration are anticipated as suitable for the present invention. FIG. 1a shows an alternate rod shape having rounded edges 20 and rounded ends 22. FIG. 2 depicts the earlier-mentioned alternate embodiment, displaying a cross-sectional view of the exercise device having an interior core 24 of a rigid material differing from the depressible covering 26 forming the exterior surfaces 14, 16, 18. Core 24 can be comprised of different material or the same material as covering 26, or the entire body 12 can be of one piece.
 Alternate embodiments of the device allow for ease of the user. FIG. 3 depicts an embodiment allowing the user to walk while wearing the exercise device. Strap 28 is disposed over, attached to, or integral with covering 26 or solid shaped body 12. Strap 28 preferably has a self-adhesive device such as Velcro® to affix the device securely to the foot or hand. However, other attachments known in the art such as buttons, hooks, eyes, buckles, zippers, and strings, as well as other fastening devices and methods known in the art may be utilized. For example, alternately, strap 28 may be comprised of an elastic material that can expand to accommodate the foot while maintaining sufficient tension to keep strap 28 in place.
 The device of the present invention can be utilized in a number of ways to benefit blood flow, and particularly, venous return in an individual. FIG. 4a depicts the use of the device, showing a momentary compression and release of the plantar area of the sole of the foot while either in a seated position or standing, accomplished by placing the device under the plantar region of the foot and lifting the heel one or more times. Standing provides the ability to apply greater downward pressure thus greater compression of the veins in the sole of the foot, however the device can also be utilized in a seated position for the exercise, thus allowing individuals "stuck" in a seated position, such as on long flights or seated at a typical office worker job, to gain benefit from the exercise. Downward pressure can be applied straight downward by stepping on the device or can be accomplished by rocking the foot forward and back over the device (not depicted).
 Another use of the device, shown in FIG. 4b places the device under the plantar region of the foot, and the seated or standing user flexes the toe and ball portion of the foot up and down to stretch the plantar areas to achieve dorsi flexion of the foot. This, when combined with the exercise depicted in FIG. 4c are together a view of a method to return venous blood flow using dorsi-plantar flexion of the foot thereby contracting and releasing the calf muscles to create a pumping action for venous blood flow return. In FIG. 4c, an individual using the device, obtains plantar flexion, an action similar to standing on the toes, by placing the device under the ball of the foot and lifting the heel up and down, thereby giving downward force on the device to release the muscles of the calf momentarily allowing greater venous blood return.
 It is preferred that in the exercises, instead of only using a "rocking" motion as known in the prior art, that the individual put a direct downward pressure on the device, such as would occur by simply standing upon the device. It is again preferred that the individual do this in a progression of locations along the foot with the device, for example, starting in the toe region, the ball of the foot, the plantar region, and progressing to the heel. By repeating the exercise, the individual has compressed the veins in the foot progressively, thereby stimulating the action of venous return.
 The device can also be utilized for increasing blood flow through the hands. FIG. 5 depicts compression of the palm of the hand for increased venous flow return; the exercise device is placed in the palm of the hand and is alternately squeezed and released to create a pumping action. FIG. 5 additionally depicts a method for holding the exercise device when used in isometric exercise, where the device is squeezed at the point where the greatest muscle contraction occurs while varying the type of exercise and number of repetitions of the exercises performed.
 It is anticipated that slightly differing shapes might additionally be utilized in the present invention, such as an essentially rod-shaped device having multiple geometric faces instead of an absolutely cylindrical configuration. FIG. 6 is a view of an alternative rod shape of the exercise device that is uniformly rounded. Additionally, it is anticipated that in addition to utilizing depressible material in order to prevent injury, additional depressibility/resistance could be had by use of springs or other spring-type material within the device. FIG. 7 and FIG. 8 depict optional device embodiments of the exercise device using solid materials for the upper and lower surfaces 14, 16 of the device connected by various types of springs 30 or other compression materials known in the industry. It is understood that these devices could be "open" to the springs as shown in FIGS. 7 and 8, or could enclose the spring entirely within a covering.
 It is clear that the device described, could, for instance, utilize a weight in or as its core in order to expand its uses as an exercise device. For instance when it is not being used in a squeezing exercise in the palm of the hand to reduce swelling and increasing blood flow, it could easily be utilized in regular exercise as a lifting type hand weight. It differs from current hand weights known in the art in that current hand weights do not typical utilize a depressible surface, and any surface that could be found on a hand weight that is depressible is not sufficiently depressible to meet the description of this invention.
 The device as depicted herein meets a heretofore unmet need by providing a resistance device suitable for use in plantar-flexion exercises for pain reduction and for exercises suitable to improve venous blood flow. The device and its use therefore provide for reduced pain and likely incidence of DVT in a user, and is therefore is a much needed improvement in the art. Unlike prior art devices, the utilization of depressible materials provides the user with increased safety and comfort.
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