Functional Electrical Stim

Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) is a low-cost technology that has great potential in benefitting the field of physical therapy. It utilizes electrodes placed over the patient’s muscles to deliver pulses of electrical current in order to stimulate peripheral nerves, generating muscle contractions which then induce specific functional movement. In theory, this is beneficial to physical therapy because it can be highly personalized into assisting a patient with any motor task that he/she may have difficulty performing. Closed-loop FES, which assists the patient in performing a volitional contraction, can be applied during various physical therapy sessions, where the patient may practice certain tasks with the assistance of the technology. This allows the patient to perform exercises on an active-assistive level, allowing to build upon muscle strength and endurance. This will allow physical therapists to have the patient perform these interventions at their own pace or level, eventually progressing them to more challenging tasks in future sessions as necessary. This technology can help physical therapists in the treatment of patients with spinal cord injury (SCI), Parkinson’s Disease, stroke, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury, or any other condition that results in weakened or paralyzed muscles.

Evidence has also shown that FES enhances neuroplasticity. In a study targeting the improvement of reach and grasp, patients with a C5-C6 level of SCI using the closed-loop FES were shown to produce the coordinated thumb, wrist, forearm, and elbow motions necessary to eat, hold a pen, and hold a cup. This then led to increased independence in ADLs and thus, quality of life. This specifically helps in a physical therapy session because the patient is able to practice a variety of tasks and exercises that he/she may have been previously unable to do. While this may theoretically assist the patient even at home, the patient may still require assistance with specific configuration and placement of the electrodes.

Posted in: Physical Therapy

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