Functional Electrical Stimulation

Functional electrical stimulation (FES) is a rehabilitation technique in which patterns of electrical stimulation are used to stimulate a nerve to help facilitate movement. Typically FES is designed to control muscles that are weak or paralyzed as a result of a neurological injury or disease that has compromised the ability of the muscles to contract appropriately on their own.

The most common use of FES is in treating muscle weakness in the leg (and associated foot drop), caused by a central nervous system disorder such as multiple sclerosis, stroke, traumatic brain injury, cerebral palsy, or incomplete spinal cord injury.

Individuals utilizing FES may see improvements in strength and range of motion as well as the management of muscle spasms. These benefits can lead to increased walking speed, better quality of life, and long-term musculoskeletal changes that improve gait pattern. Recent evidence also shows that using FES over time can promote positive changes in the function of the brain, a process called neuroplasticity.1, 2, 3

Although FES can be a very effective tool for the right patient, not everyone with upper motor neuron disorders is a candidate. Your clinician will discuss your options, including whether FES might be right for you, during the initial evaluation process.

  1. Stein RB, Chong SL, Everaert DG, Rolf R, Thompson AK, Whittaker M, Robertson J, Fung J, Preuss R, Momose K, Ihashi K (2006). A multicenter trial of a footdrop stimulator controlled by a tilt sensor. Neurorehabil Neural Repair 20(3):371-379.
  2. Stein RB, Everaert D, Chong SL, Thompson AK (2007). Using FES for foot drop strengthens Cortioc-Spinal Connections. 12th Conference of the International FES Society.
  3. Thompson AK, Stein RB (2004). Short-term effects of functional electrical stimulation on motor-evoked potentials in ankle flexor muscles and extensor muscles. Exp Brain Res 159:491-500.

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