Functional electrical stimulation for grasping and walking: indications and limitations

Spinal Cord. 2001 Aug;39(8):403-12. doi: 10.1038/


This review describes the state of art in the field of Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) and its impact on improving grasping and walking functions in acute and chronic Spinal Cord Injured (SCI) patients. It is argued that during the early rehabilitation period the FES systems with surface stimulation electrodes should be used to assist training of hand and leg movements in SCI patients. Our clinical trials have shown that a number of acute SCI patients with impaired walking and grasping functions could improve these functions due to training with an adjustable FES system to the point that they finally did not need the FES system to carry out these tasks. Other acute SCI patients, who did not recover the desired function, were enabled to perform either walking or grasping with the FES assistance. We believe that the subjects who can perform grasping or walking with the help of FES, and still use the neuroprosthesis 6 months after being subjected to the FES training, should consider the FES system as a prosthetic device in Activities of Daily Living (ADL). Despite the significant technical progress achieved in the last 10 to 15 years in the FES field, there is a general consensus that these systems are not sufficiently advanced and that they need further development. The limited acceptance of the FES technology can be in part explained by the fact that it is not completely mature and that the patients still require daily assistance to use the FES systems. Nevertheless the present FES treatments combined with conventional occupational and physical therapy still remain the most promising approach in rehabilitating SCI patients. In this review, advantages and limitations of different FES systems that are used to restore grasping and walking functions are discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electric Stimulation Therapy*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Hand Strength / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Paralysis / physiopathology
  • Paralysis / therapy*
  • Walking / physiology*