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Functional electrical stimulation cycling in women with SCI

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By: Nathan Santos 

This is a summary of a paper published by researchers from Vancouver, BC in The Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine.

Original article: Ashe MC, Eng JJ, Krassioukov AV, Warburton DER, Hung C, Tawashy A. Response to functional electrical stimulation cycling in women with spinal cord injuries using dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry and peripheral quantitative computed tomography: a case series. J Spinal Cord Med. 2010;33(1):68–72.

What’s new in SCI Research?

People with spinal cord injury (SCI) often find that they lose bone mass. This leads to an increased chance of fractures, especially in the legs. Until now, treatment of this bone loss has been limited to the use of medication, but one area of interest lies in Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) cycling. In FES cycling, electrodes are placed over the leg muscles used for cycling a bike. The participant mounts a stationary exercise bike, and a computer then stimulates the legs in a cycling pattern. ICORD researchers Andrei Krassioukov, Janice Eng and Darren Warburton wanted to measure how much FES cycling helps to improve bone quality. Women who had been living with SCI for more than a year, and who used wheelchairs for mobility, were recruited for participation. After training with FES cycles for six months, measurements showed improved bone density, and in addition, increased lean mass, meaning more muscle, and less fat, in the participants’ legs.

What was the most important finding?

FES cycling may increase muscle mass and bone mass in the legs, potentially reducing the risk of fracture among other benefits.

What are some things we need to consider?

This was the first study to link FES and bone quality in people with SCI, and it was completed on a very small scale. The next steps is a larger study, to confirm and expand the results. In this small study not all participants had the same results.

In addition, FES is expensive and time-consuming, so there may be practical concerns about whether it is suitable for everyone.

What does this mean for people with SCI?

Although more research does need to be done, FES may be a very promising possibility for improving muscle and bone mass in people with SCI.

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2 thoughts on “Functional electrical stimulation cycling in women with SCI

  1. I would love to be a volunteer for any further research due to an accident that left my right leg with reduced range of motion and a total knee replacement as well as another accident that has left me with nerve damage in my left leg and no feeling from knee to toe due to l5 s1 herniation as well as in c3 c4 c5. I have loss muscle and am very concerned about bone mass loss. Thank you

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