One of the best decisions I made after becoming paralyzed was to use Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) to keep muscle tone on my legs. My family and I fought the insurance company back in 1987 to obtain the FES bike, and it was totally worth it. Due to my diligence at using the FES bike and standing devices I have never had a wound, fracture or contracture in 31 years of paralysis.
What is FES?
When a spinal cord injury happens, your muscles are no longer able to receive the signals from the central nervous system to fire and create movement. FES uses a low-energy electrical impulse applied directly to the muscle to create a contraction. When you place electrodes on muscle, it causes the muscle to contract. When I use the FES bike, I have electrodes on my gluts, quads and hamstrings. The computer attached to the FES bike can synchronize the muscle contractions as the brain would. Then the muscles in my legs contract and push the bike peddles on the stationary bike. The computer that is attached to the bike keeps track of your speed and can add resistance to the pedal as your muscle can tolerate it.
Here’s a quick clip of me using my FES bike:
Which diagnosis can benefit from Using FES?
- Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) - both complete and incomplete depending on the level of injury
- Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
- Cerebral Palsy (CP)
- Multiple Sclerosis (MS)
- Transverse Myelitis
Benefits of Using FES
There are five FDA approved uses for FES.
- Decreased muscle atrophy
- Improved circulation
- Improved range of motion
- Decreased Muscle spasms
- Muscle reeducation
Forty years of research has shown that using FES improves glucose tolerance and improved cardiovascular function. The overall health of a person using FES improves if used as a weekly routine. There also many psychological benefits of using FES. The exercise itself increases the endorphins levels which decrease depression. Also, when you increase muscle tone, you feel better about yourself. Improved self-esteem also reduces depression. I am living proof of all of the benefits of using electrical stimulation.
How much does an FES bike cost?
It is possible to get insurance to cover FES devices if you have lots of patience. Many variables will impact potential reimbursements, like your diagnosis and the type of coverage you have. It always helps to inform your doctor about the medical benefits of FES and have him/her write a letter to your insurance company. The waiting time for approval can take up to a year or more.
If you can’t get your insurance company to cover the device, you can investigate state programs that sometimes pay for equipment for people with disabilities. In Louisiana, we have the Traumatic Head and Spinal Cord Injury Trust Fund Program
, where people who sustained a TBI or SCI can apply for funds that can be used for equipment like FES. You can call the Department of Rehabilitation in your state to see if your state has a similar program.
If you can’t find sponsored funding for FES and you have the money to purchase an FES device, I think it is well worth the money. It is an investment in your health that will pay dividends for the rest of your life. I have never been hospitalized for a condition secondary to my spinal cord injury. I don’t know many people who can say that after over 30 years of living with a spinal cord injury.
I would love to hear from you about questions you have. You can send them to me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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Now and go and live your best life Possible!