Functional electrical stimulation of the ankle dorsiflexors during walking in spastic cerebral palsy: a systematic review

Dev Med Child Neurol. 2017 Dec;59(12):1230-1236. doi: 10.1111/dmcn.13501. Epub 2017 Aug 17.


Aim: To assess the effect of functional electrical stimulation (FES) of ankle dorsiflexors in children and adolescents with spastic cerebral palsy (CP) during walking.

Method: A systematic review was performed using the American Academy of Cerebral Palsy and Developmental Medicine methodology and the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines. Six databases were searched for studies applying interventions to patients aged younger than 20 years. Outcomes were classified according to the International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF).

Results: Seven hundred and eighty abstracts were found, 35 articles were fully screened, and 14 articles were used for analysis. Only five articles (three studies) were of level I to III evidence. At ICF participation and activity level, there is limited evidence for a decrease in self-reported frequency of toe-drag and falls. At ICF body structure and function level, there is clear evidence (I-III) that FES increased (active) ankle dorsiflexion angle, strength, and improved selective motor control, balance, and gait kinematics, but decreased walking speed. Adverse events include skin irritation, toleration, and acceptation issues.

Interpretation: There are insufficient data supporting functional gain by FES on activity and participation level. However, evidence points towards a role for FES as an alternative to orthoses in children with spastic CP.

What this paper adds: Effects of functional electrical stimulation (FES) point towards a potential role as an alternative to orthoses for patients with spastic cerebral palsy (CP). Some evidence for a decrease in self-reported frequency of toe-drag and falls with the use of FES in spastic CP. Limited evidence for improvements in activity and participation in patients with spastic CP using FES.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Ankle / physiopathology*
  • Cerebral Palsy / therapy*
  • Child
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / adverse effects
  • Electric Stimulation Therapy / methods*
  • Humans
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*
  • Walking / physiology*