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Home » Neurology » Functional electrical stimulation helps patients walk with confidence

Paul Taylor

Co-Founder and Clinical Director, Odstock Medical Ltd

A functional electrical stimulation (FES) technique has been shown to improve walking for people with conditions affecting the nervous system.

Functional electrical stimulation can benefit patients such as those with multiple sclerosis (MS), drop foot, spinal cord injury and patients recovering from stroke.Now, a new trial seeks to discover how effective FES can be for Parkinson’s disease.

FES technique for safer walking

The technique has been advanced by Odstock Medical Limited (OML), a company set up by Salisbury NHS Foundation Trust to develop FES devices and clinical services.

Head of Research at the National Clinical FES Centre at Salisbury District Hospital, Paul Taylor, explains that skin electrodes stimulate weakened muscles due to neurological conditions, aiding walking. A pressure pad in the shoe regulates the system’s activation timing.

A typical example is helping those with difficulty walking due to drop foot, which is the inability to lift the foot as they swing forward. “FES stimulates muscles, lifting the foot at the right time and making walking easier and safer,” he says. “People are less likely to trip and fall; there is less energy expenditure; and they can walk faster and further.”

Up to 80% of users say it increases their confidence in walking while OML’s studies show a 72% reduction in falls for people with MS. “This can have a real impact on quality of life,” says Taylor.

Further FES information

The device is accepted by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) for NHS use, and guidance has been updated for upper limb therapies. Meanwhile, the STEPS II trial is currently recruiting 234 participants to a seven-centre UK study to discover how FES can help with Parkinson’s.

OML has FES information packs available. Patient groups, such as the MS Society or the Stroke Association, also offer FES information. MS Society and Different Strokes have campaigned for better funding of FES in the NHS. Taylor adds: “The device is discreet, and the overwhelming majority of people get used to it fairly quickly and use it because it makes a difference to them.”

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