Updated: Oct 6
We are delighted to announce that The Brightwell now offers Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) assessments and advice.
Functional electrical stimulation (FES) is a treatment that applies small electrical charges to a muscle that has become paralysed or weakened, due to damage in your brain or spinal cord. The electrical charge stimulates the muscle to make its usual movement. In MS and other neurological conditions, it is mostly used as a treatment for foot drop, where disruptions in the nerve pathways between the legs and brain mean the front of your foot cannot be lifted to the correct angle when walking.
How does FES work?
A FES device consists of a control box, about the size of a pack of cards, with a battery and electrodes. For foot drop, the device is usually worn in a cuff below the knee. This is where the electrodes can stimulate the nerve that goes to the muscle that would normally lift the front of your foot. At the right moment in your gait, when your foot is about to lift up to be swung forwards, the FES device stimulates the nerve and lifts the foot.
The stimulation stops when the foot hits the ground again. It may take some time to adjust the timing specifically for you and your gait. Some FES devices have a sensor that is worn in the heel area, to help with the timing, but in modern devices that is optional. This means that the FES device can be worn with bare feet or sandals.
What are the benefits of FES?
Research and experience has shown that treatment with FES produces a more normal walking pattern, enabling people to walk faster, further and with less effort. It can also help build confidence in walking and increase independence as well as reducing the risk of trips and falls.
As well as being a treatment for foot drop FES can also be used in rehabilitation, complementing physiotherapy techniques, often to assist with movements in muscles that have become weak. This allows you to build up strength and range of movement. This may also help with reducing spasticity and sometimes in reducing swelling, depending on the cause.
Who can use FES?
If you have difficulty with walking due to foot drop, you may benefit from FES. However, as FES stimulates the existing nerves in the legs, it is important that your nerve fibres between the spinal cord and the muscles are not damaged. To be suitable for the treatment, you need to be able to walk, even if only for a few metres with a stick or other walking aid.
Typically, you will have an initial assessment that lasts for about an hour to see if you are suitable for treatment and if you respond to the FES stimulation. If you do respond, then you can start the treatment process. One of our physiotherapists will set up the device with you and teach you how to use it. At first you may find it difficult and time consuming to put the device on and position the pads correctly, but this becomes easier with practice.
Once one of our trained physiotherapists and you have agreed that a FES device is beneficial and suitable, we will give you a clinical referral to a recommended supplier. That supplier, will discuss cost and options with you, as well as delivery timescales.
Follow up sessions at The Brightwell will be necessary to adjust the electrode position and the strength of the electrical stimulation. This can change as your muscles strengthen and your nerves get used to the level of stimulation.
How do I get an appointment at The Brightwell FES Clinic?
If you are an existing member and/or come to The Brightwell for therapy, your physiotherapist will be able to recommend your suitability to be booked into an assessment session.
We would like to thank Woodstock Homes for their ongoing support and for funding to set up The Brightwell FES Clinic.
Please visit the FES Clinicpage of our website for full details and assessment information www.thebrightwell.org.uk/therapies/fes-clinic