Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) for Spinal Cord Injury

functional electrical stimulation spinal cord injury

Functional Electrical Stimulation is a method of treatment that uses a small charge of electric current to stimulate the body’s muscles that have become weakened or paralyzed due to damage to the spinal cord or brain. The electric stimulation used in the treatment process helps the muscles to regain their usual movements. Here’s everything you need to know about functional electrical stimulation spinal cord injury. 

Functional Electrical Stimulation helps to improve and restore bodily functions such as bladder control and bowel. Moreover, they are also used for blocking pain signals. The electrical impulses trigger the required function like contracting muscles to lift an arm or move the foot. The electrical impulses help to activate specific nerves and muscles in a person’s body.

Spinal Cord and its Function

Our spinal cord is a sensitive structure that contains cells and nerve bundles that carry message signals from our brain to the rest of our body. It is a cylindrical structure, which runs through the center of our spine from your lower back to your brainstem. The spinal cord is the most important part of our nervous system.

The main function of the spinal cord is to carry nerve signals across our body. It is the spinal cord that controls the functions and movements of our body. They also direct involuntary functions like heartbeat, breathing rate, bladder, and bowel functions.

The spinal cord helps our brain to record and process sensations in our body like pain and pressure. It also manages some of our involuntary movements or reflexes without the involvement of our brain.

In What Ways Does Spinal Cord Injury Affect the Nervous System?

The injury to the spinal cord can cause serious problems to our nervous system. As the primary function of the spinal cord is to send message signals from the brain throughout our body, an injury can interrupt this function and the signals from the brain would no longer reach their destination.

Following a spinal cord injury, your capacity to control your limbs depends on two things: the intensity of the injury and where on your spinal cord the damage has occurred. The damage can range from less serious spinal cord injuries that get better with time to major long-term paralysis.

Spinal cord injuries can cause the following problems:

  • Loss of bladder and bowel control
  • Trouble in walking and loss of balance
  • Paralysis in any part of your body
  • Extreme pressure on your head, neck, and back
  • Loss of movement
    Losing the ability to feel touch, heat, and cold.
  • Changes in sexual sensitivity, sexual function, and fertility
  • Trouble in breathing and coughing

How Does FES Work for Spinal Cord Injury?

Functional Electrical Stimulation helps those who suffer from spinal cord injuries to activate their muscles which improves their movements and helps them to function independently. Here’s a detailed guide on functional electrical stimulation spinal cord injury.

The electrical impulses used in the FES help to trigger specific nerves and muscles thus achieving the desired function. The electrical impulse can also be used to repair or restore some body functions, including bowel and bladder control, as well as prevent impulses that convey pain.

Some Other Functions That Can Be Restored with FES

The following are some of the functions that can be restored with help of Functional Electrical Stimulation:

  • Move hand to hold and release objects
  • Helps to stand in balance and walk a short distance
  • Helps to improve posture
  • Helps to regain sensations such as touch, temperature, and pressure
  • Help to regain bowel and bladder control
  • Helps to restore breathing pattern
  • Reduces pain by suppressing impulses that provide a message about pain

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Benefits of FES

  • Improves blood circulation
  • Helps to build muscle mass which reduces the risk of fractures
  • Weight management through exercise
  • Reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases through general health improvement
  • Prevents the weakening and shrinking of tissues due to the lack of use
  • Helps to improve breathing pattern
  • Reduce the risk of choking hazards and lung infections

Risks Involved in FES

Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) systems that are outside the body are less likely to cause risks than cables and electrodes positioned beneath the skin or in deep tissue. The risk can be the following:

  • Infection or irritation at the electrode placement site
  • Formation of scar tissue near the electrode( known as encapsulation)
  • Deposition of electrodes after placement
  • Broken cables

Who Should Avoid Getting an FES

While FES can be beneficial for several conditions some people should avoid getting Functional Electrical Stimulation such as:

  • Those who suffer from cancer
  • People with an already implanted electrical device
  • Those who have osteomyelitis
  • Those who have epilepsy
  • Pregnant women
  • People with osteoporosis


Functional Electrical Stimulation for spinal cord injury is an ongoing treatment process. It will take weeks or months to learn how to use and control FES devices. The teamwork between you and your therapist can bring out fruitful results as the treatment progresses. The duration of therapy varies from person to person depending on the intensity of the injury.

If you wish to undergo an FES treatment or need to know about functional electrical stimulation spinal cord injury, get in touch with Physio-Healing Hands, the physiotherapist Aylesbury. Give us a call and book your appointment today!

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