Home-based Functional Electrical Stimulation (h-bFES) rescues permanently denervated muscles in paraplegic patients with complete lower motor neuron lesion

Authors: Kern1, Carraro2, Adami2, Bira2l, Hofer1, Forstner1, Mödlin1, Vogelauer1, Pond3, Boncompagni4, Paolini4, Mayr5, Protasi4, Zampieri2

Source: Neurorehabil Neural Repair. 2010 Oct;24(8):709-21. Epub 2010 May 11.

Keywords: functional electrical stimulation, long-term denervation, lower motor neuron lesion, computed tomography, human muscle biopsy, conus and cauda equina spinal cord injury


Background. Spinal cord injury causes muscle wasting and loss of function, which are especially severe after complete and permanent damage to lower motor neurons. In a previous cross-sectional study, long-standing denervated muscles were rescued by home-based functional electrical stimulation (h-bFES) training. Objective. To confirm results by a 2-year longitudinal prospective study of 25 patients with complete conus/cauda equina lesions. Methods. Denervated leg muscles were stimulated by h-bFES using a custom-designed stimulator and large surface electrodes. Muscle mass, force, and structure were determined before and after 2 years of h-bFES using computed tomography, measurements of knee torque during stimulation, and muscle biopsies analyzed by histology and electron microscopy. Results. Twenty out of 25 patients completed the 2-year h-bFES program, which resulted in (a) a 35% cross-sectional increase in area of the quadriceps muscle from 28.2 ± 8.1 to 38.1 ± 12.7 cm2 (P < .001), a 75% increase in mean diameter of muscle fibers from 16.6 ± 14.3 to 29.1 ± 23.3 mm (P < .001), and improvements of the ultrastructural organization of contractile material; and (b) a 1187% increase in force output during electrical stimulation from 0.8 ± 1.3 to 10.3 ± 8.1 N m (P < .001). The recovery of quadriceps force was sufficient to allow 25% of the subjects to perform FES-assisted stand-up exercises. Conclusions. Home-based FES of denervated muscle is an effective home therapy that results in rescue of muscle mass and tetanic contractility. Important immediate benefits for the patients are the improved cosmetic appearance of lower extremities and the enhanced cushioning effect for seating.


1 Ludwig Boltzmann Institute of Electrostimulation and Physical Rehabilitation, Vienna, Austria
2 University of Padova, Padova, Italy
3 Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, USA
4 University G d’Annunzio, Chieti, Italy
5 Medical University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria