Content » Vol 44, Issue 2

Review article

Non-invasive neuromuscular electrical stimulation in patients with central nervous system lesions: An educational review

Othmar Schuhfried, Richard Crevenna, Veronika Fialka-Moser, Tatjana Paternostro-Sluga
DOI: 10.2340/16501977-0941


The aim of this educational review is to provide an overview of the clinical application of transcutaneous electrical stimulation of the extremities in patients with upper motor neurone lesions. In general two methods of electrical stimulation can be distinguished: (i) therapeutic electrical stimulation, and (ii) functional electrical stimulation. Therapeutic electrical stimulation improves neuromuscular functional condition by strengthening muscles, increasing motor control, reducing spasticity, decreasing pain and increasing range of motion. Transcutaneous electrical stimulation may be used for neuromuscular electrical stimulation inducing repetitive muscle contraction, electromyography-triggered neuromuscular electrical stimulation, position-triggered electrical stimulation and subsensory or sensory transcutaneous electric stimulation. Functional electrical stimulation provokes muscle contraction and thereby produces a functionally useful movement during stimulation. In patients with spinal cord injuries or stroke, electrical upper limb neuroprostheses are applied to enhance upper limb and hand function, and electrical lower limb neuroprostheses are applied for restoration of standing and walking. For example, a dropped foot stimulator is used to trigger ankle dorsiflexion to restore gait function. A review of the literature and clinical experience of the use of therapeutic electrical stimulation as well as of functional electrical stimulation in combination with botulinum toxin, exercise therapy and/or splinting are presented. Although the evidence is limited we conclude that neuromuscular electrical stimulation in patients with central nervous system lesions can be an effective modality to improve function, and that combination with other treatments has an additive therapeutic effect.

Lay Abstract


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