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6.2. Lower Extremity Functional Electrical Stimulation Cycling study

A study published in the Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine by John W. McDonald, M.D., Ph.D., the neurologist who treated the late Christopher Reeve, finds that long-term lower extremity functional electrical stimulation (FES) cycling is associated with substantial improvements in individuals with chronic spinal cord injury. Prior to this study from Kennedy Krieger Institute's International Center for Spinal Cord Injury, the benefits of activity-based restorative therapy (ABRT) programs, such as FES cycling, were largely anecdotal despite being highly publicized in conjunction with the late-onset recovery demonstrated by actor and activist Christopher Reeve.


Some highlights of the study's findings include:

  • · Improved motor function was observed in 80 percent of the FES group, compared to only 45 percent of control subjects.
  • · Response in pinprick sensation was observed in 56 percent of the FES group compared with 25 percent of the control group.
  • · 14 of the 25 FES subjects showed response in light touch scores compared to six of the 20 controls.


What is FES Cycling?

In FES cycling, small electrical pulses are applied to the paralyzed muscles of an individual, stimulating the muscles to cycle on a stationary recumbent bicycle. The repetitive activity simulates movement and offers cardiovascular exercise similar to that which an able-bodied individual achieves through walking, but this new research shows that the results go far beyond basic health benefits.

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