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What is Functional Electrical Stimulation work?

Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) is electrical stimulation of weak muscles via electrodes implanted under or placed on the skin in order to increase muscle activity and movement. At, we offer an FES service to adults and children who are unable to move their limbs due to neurological injury. FES can be used as part of an on-going treatment regime or our experienced physiotherapists can provide a one-off assessment to determine whether your child is a suitable candidate for electrical stimulation.

Functional electrical stimulation can help children regain active control of muscle groupsAbove: Functional electrical stimulation can help children regain active control of muscle groups

How does Functional Electrical Stimulation work?

FES produces contraction of the muscles via electrical stimulation. The electrical stimulation causes the muscles to contract and produces a movement of the joint or limb; for example a straightening of the fingers or bend of the knee. It can be used as an exercise tool or to facilitate more efficient function. Functionally, FES can be used to facilitate a reaching pattern with the upper limb or to improve the speed and ease of walking.

Whilst walking, a foot switch can be placed under the sole of the foot which causes the FES to turn on and off at the appropriate time during walking. This can be very helpful to children who have dropped foot or other problems walking.

Functional electrical stimulation can help engage muscle tissue that has weak inervation.Above: Functional electrical stimulation can help engage muscle tissue that has weak inervation.

Conditions treated with Functional Electrical Stimulation

Functional Electrical Stimulation can be used to produce activity in muscles that are paralysed or weakened by any condition that affects the central nervous system. For example, familial spastic paraplegia, hereditary spastic paraplegia, cerebral palsy, head injury and spinal cord injury. It is important that your child has good skin integrity and sensation in order to wear the electrodes on the skin safely. FES is not painful; the electrical stimulation is comparable to pins and needles and most children can tolerate it well for short periods.

Physiotherapy and Functional Electrical Stimulation

FES is an effective and useful treatment tool employed by physiotherapists in the treatment of muscle weakness caused by a condition affecting the nervous system. It can be used to exercise and strengthen muscles whilst your child is resting or it can be worn to help your child move around.

Firstly, your physiotherapist at will carry out an in-depth neurological assessment of your child’s condition and needs in order to determine if they are suitable for treatment with FES. Your physiotherapist will assess range of movement, muscle strength, tone, co-ordination, sensation and will want to observe your child carrying out functional activities such as walking, stairs, drinking from a cup etc. The findings of the assessment will be discussed with you and your child can try the FES. Your physiotherapist will position the electrodes on the skin in a location to stimulate the weak muscles and begin to test the current of the electrical stimulation. Our physiotherapists understand it is a strange sensation for your child so we will slowly increase the current to ensure your child feels safe and confident. Once the electrical stimulation starts to move the weakened limb we can practice functional tasks such as walking or reaching with the equipment on. To begin with, this will be for a few minutes at a time until your child is able to wear it for longer periods. The aim of the electrical stimulation is that the weakened muscles will strengthen with regular use.

If your child is suitable and can tolerate the pins and needles sensation produced by FES, there are significant rewards. The benefits of wearing FES whilst walking include:
  • Reduction in risk of falls
  • Reduction in need for walkers or crutches
  • Improved walking pattern
  • Improved exercise tolerance and stamina
  • Increased distance able to mobilise
  • Increased movement of the affected limb
  • Increased muscle activity and strength
  • Reduced muscle tightness
  • Improved confidence
  • Increased independence and quality of life

Why for Functional Electrical Stimulation

At, we have specialist neurological physiotherapists who are specifically trained in the safe and effective delivery of functional electrical stimulation. FES is a very useful, evidence based treatment modality that strengthens muscles when used regularly and significantly improves function and quality of life.
  • No waiting lists
  • Treatment at home or in the clinic
  • Experienced, knowledgeable physiotherapists
  • Find out if FES would work for your child
  • Specialist explanation and training of how to apply and use FES
  • Learn how FES can improve function and muscle strength
  • Trial the latest evidence based treatments for your child
Physiotherapy and FES can be provided in your home or at one of our clinic locations. To book an appointment or talk to a neurological physiotherapist about how FES could work for your child, please contact us now on 0330 088 7800. You can also make appointments by booking online today!

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