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Spatially distributed sequential stimulation (SDSS) has demonstrated substantial power output and fatigue benefits compared to single electrode stimulation (SES) in the application of functional electrical stimulation (FES). This asymmetric electrode setup brings new possibilities but also new questions since precise placement of the electrodes is one critical factor for good muscle activation. The aim of this study was to compare the power output, fatigue and activation properties of proximally versus distally placed SDSS electrodes in an isokinetic knee extension task simulating knee movement during recumbent cycling. M. vastus lateralis and medialis of seven able-bodied subjects were stimulated with rectangular bi-phasic pulses of constant amplitude of 40 mA and at an SDSS frequency of 35 Hz for 6 min on both legs with both setups (i.e. n=14). Torque was measured during knee-extension movement by a dynamometer at an angular velocity of 110 deg/s. Mean power, peak power and activation time were calculated and compared for the initial and final stimulation phases, together with an overall fatigue index. Power output values (Pmean, Ppeak) were scaled to a standardised reference input pulse width of 100 μs (Pmean,s, Ppeak,s). The initial evaluation phase showed no significant differences between the two setups for all outcome measures. Ppeak and Ppeak,s were both significantly higher in the final phase for the distal setup (25.4 ± 8.1 W vs. 28.2 ± 6.2 W, p=0.0062 and 34.8 ± 9.5 W vs. 38.9 ± 6.7 W, p=0.021, respectively). With distal SDSS, there was modest evidence of higher Pmean and Pmean,s (p=0.071, p=0.14, respectively) but of longer activation time (p=0.096). The rate of fatigue was similar for both setups. For practical FES applications, distal placement of the SDSS electrodes is preferable.
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