Functional electrical stimulation on paraplegic patients

  • Helmut Kern | Institute for Physical Medicine, Wilhelminenspital and Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Electrical Stimulation and Physical Rehabilitation, Vienna, Austria.


We report on clinical and physiological effects of 8 months Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) of quadriceps femoris muscle on 16 paraplegic patients. Each patient had muscle biopsies, CT-muscle diameter measurements, knee extension strength testing carried out before and after 8 months FES training. Skin perfusion was documented through infrared telethermography and xenon clearance, muscle perfusion was recorded through thallium scintigraphy. After 8 months FES training baseline skin perfusion showed 86 % increase, muscle perfusion was augmented by 87 %. Muscle fiber diameters showed an average increase of 59 % after 8 months FES training. Muscles in patients with spastic paresis as well as in patients with denervation showed an increase in aerob and anaerob muscle enzymes up to the normal range. Even without axonal neurotropic substances FES was able to demonstrate fiberhypertrophy, enzyme adaptation and intracellular structural benefits in denervated muscles. The increment in muscle area as visible on CT-scans of quadriceps femoris was 30 % in spastic paraplegia and 10 % in denervated patients respectively. FES induced changes were less in areas not directly underneath the surface electrodes. We strongly recommend the use of Kern`s current for FES in denervated muscles to induce tetanic muscle contractions as we formed a very critical opinion of conventional exponential current. In patients with conus-cauda-lesions FES must be integrated into modern rehabilitation to prevent extreme muscle degeneration and decubital ulcers. Using FES we are able to improve metabolism and induce positive trophic changes in our patients lower extremities. In spastic paraplegics the functions „rising and walking“ achieved through FES are much better training than FES ergometers. Larger muscle masses are activated and an increased heart rate is measured, therefore the impact on cardiovascular fitness and metabolism is much greater. This effectively addresses and prevents all problems which result from inactivity in paraplegic patients.



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Original Articles
Paraplegia, Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES), muscle biopsy, fiber size, histochemical changes, enzyme-activity, force-measurement, Xenon 133, Thallium 201, IR-Thermography
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How to Cite
Kern, H. (2014). Functional electrical stimulation on paraplegic patients. European Journal of Translational Myology, 24(2).