Effects of FES-Ambulation Training on Locomotor Function and Health-Related Quality of Life in Individuals With Spinal Cord Injury

Top Spinal Cord Inj Rehabil. 2014 Winter;20(1):58-69. doi: 10.1310/sci2001-58.


Background: The combination of body weight-supported gait training with functional electrical stimulation (FES) may provide the optimal stimulus for improving overground walking after spinal cord injury (SCI). This potential benefit is likely due to the combination of specificity with the maximization of muscle contractions.

Objectives: To investigate the effects of 12 weeks of FES-ambulation on overground walking and health-related quality of life (HRQOL) in individuals with SCI.

Methods: Six individuals (60.5 ± 13.2 years) with SCI (C4-L3; AIS D; 9.3 ± 12.0 years post injury), completed a thrice-weekly, 12-week FES-ambulation training program. Locomotor function was assessed via the Walking Index for Spinal Cord Injury II (WISCI II), the 6-minute walk test (6MWT), the 10-meter walk test (10MWT), and the body-weight support required during training. HRQOL was assessed via the Short Form-36, the Perceived Stress Scale, and the Center of Epidemiological Studies for Depression scale.

Results: Participants showed significant improvements in the 6MWT (223.6 ± 141.5 m to 297.3 ± 164.5 m; P = .03), the required body weight support (55.3% ± 12.6% to 14.7% ± 23.2%; P = .03), and a nonsignificant trend toward an increase in walking speed during the 10MWT (0.69 ± 0.4 m/s to 0.9 ± 0.5 m/s; P = .08) following the training program. Four participants showed improvements on the WISCI II (1-4 points). Participants also showed a decrease in the Short Form-36 pain score (6.5 ± 1.2 to 5.0 ± 1.7; P = .04) and an increase in the overall mental health score (47.8 ± 12.6 to 54.2 ± 6.7; P = .04).

Conclusion: FES-ambulation was associated with enhanced overground walking in individuals with AIS D SCI, reduced pain, and improved mental health.

Keywords: body weight support; electrical stimulation; overground walking; pain; psychological well-being; rehabilitation.