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Comparison of functional electrical stimulation to long leg braces for upright mobility for children with complete thoracic level spinal injuries

Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0003-9993(99)90059-x
  • Medicine


Abstract Objective: To prospectively compare functional electrical stimulation (FES) to long leg braces (LLB) as a means of upright mobility for children with motor-complete thoracic level spinal cord injuries (SCIs). Design: Intrasubject group comparison of two interventions. Setting: Nonprofit pediatric orthopedic rehabilitation facility specializing in SCI. Patients or Other Participants: Convenience sample of five children between 9 and 18 years old with motor-complete thoracic level SCI. The hip and knee extensors were excitable by electrical stimulation. Interventions: The FES system consisted of percutaneous intramuscular electrodes implanted to the hip and knee extensors and a push-button activated stimulator worn about the waist. Standing was accomplished by simultaneous stimulation of all implanted muscles. For foot and ankle stability, either ankle-foot orthoses (AFO) or supramalleolar orthoses were used. The LLB system consisted of a custom knee-ankle foot orthosis (KAFO) for four subjects and a custom reciprocating gait orthosis (RGO) for one subject who required bracing at the hip. For both interventions, either a front-wheeled walker or Lofstrand crutches were used as assistive devices. Each subject was trained in the use of both FES and LLB in seven standardized upright mobility activities: stand and reach, high transfer, toilet transfer, floor to stand, 6-meter walk, stair ascent, and stair descent. Main Outcome Measures: For each mobility activity, five repeated measures of level of independence, using the 7-point Functional Independence Measure (FIM) scale, and time to completion were recorded for each intervention. Subjects were also asked which intervention they preferred. Results: For 94% of comparisons, subjects required equal (70%) or less (24%) assistance using FES as compared with LLB. Six of the seven mobility activities required less time to complete using FES, two activities at significant levels. The FES system was preferred in 62% of the cases, LLB were desired 27% of the time, and there was no preference in 11% of the cases. Conclusions: The FES system generally provided equal or greater independence in seven mobility activities as compared with LLB, provided faster sit-to-stand times, and was preferred over LLB in a majority of cases. Follow-up evaluations of both modes of upright mobility are needed to compare long-term performance and satisfaction.

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