kennLower-extremity functional electrical stimulation (FES) cycling integrated as part of a rehabilitation regimen may be linked to substantial improvements in individuals with chronic spinal cord injury (SCI), researchers say. According to the study conducted by Kennedy Krieger Institute’s International Center for Spinal Cord Injury, improvements exhibited included neurological and functional gains, in addition to enhanced physical health demonstrated by decreased fat, increased muscle mass, and improved lipid file.

John W. McDonald, MD, PhD, senior study author, director of the International Center for Spinal Cord Injury at Kennedy Krieger Institute, notes that while exercise may not have been conventionally advocated for individuals with paralysis, “We found that FES cycling is a practical form of exercise that provides substantial benefits, including improved physical integrity, enhanced neurological and functional performance, increased muscle size and strength, reduced muscle spasticity, and improved quality of life,” McDonald says.

The study reportedly encompassed 45 chronic SCI patients. Researchers say 25 of the participants were assigned to the FES cycling group at the Washington University Spinal Cord Injury Program. The patients were then matched by age, gender, injury level/severity, and duration of injury to 20 control patients who received no active physical therapy.

According to a recent news release, patients performed FES cycling for a total of 29.5 months, averaging a distance of 10,466 complete cycles of two pedals per week. A retrospective analysis indicated that 80% of the FES group exhibited improved motor function, compared to 45% of the control subjects. Researchers add that clinically important gains in neurological function were also exhibited in the FES group. These improvements included pinprick sensation observed in 56% of the FES group compared to 25% of the control group, with 14 of the 25 FES participants exhibiting response in light touch scores when compared to 6 of the 20 control subjects.

Researchers say FES cycling ultimately correlated with enhanced muscle strength without increasing spasticity, improvements in quality of life, and overall improved health in study participants.

[Source: Kennedy Krieger Institute]