At 17 years old, Chris Corsi suffered a diving accident that broke his neck and left him with paralysis. He was unable to control his trunk and had very little finger dexterity.
Chris, a c7 quad, spent three months in the hospital and continues recovering to this day. “It’s affected everything,” he says, “Your whole life changes.”
Fortunately for Chris, the FES bike is helping to overcome the challenges his disability presents. While the treatment is difficult, it not only helps Corsi physically, but boosts his self-image and emotional sense of well-being. Corsi bikes about 30 minutes a day and says, “it’s push, push, push like it’s actually running the regular bike.” He goes on to say, “Many things have completely improved. It’s helped a lot as far as muscle building goes.”
An FES bike, or Functional Electrical Stimulation bike, is a device that applies measured charges of electricity to paralyzed muscles. This enables the muscles to improve or even restore their function.
FES first came to the public’s eye way back in 1983, when a TV movie entitled Those First Steps was inspired by the real-life story of Nan Davis, a paraplegic student at Wright State University who used an FES system to rise from her wheelchair and “walk” to receive her diploma.
Soon after, the technology became commercially available as an ergometer, or stationary bicycle; the FES technology stimulates leg muscles, enabling users to pedal the bike and rebuild atrophied or damaged tissue.
It didn’t take long for researchers to note that this has the added benefit of providing aerobic exercise in people with limited muscle function. As such, the process helps to boost cardiovascular function and circulation, and increases strength and muscle mass, even in quadriplegics.
Football player Matt Bollig, pictured above, was working out in his university’s weight room when he broke his back and became a paraplegic. During his post-surgery therapy, Matt used an FES bike, and he called it “an essential piece of equipment once he leaves the hospital.”
While FES is commonly used for exercise, it can also aid in many areas of impaired physiology, including standing and walking. It can help some patients improve bladder and bowel function and even may help to reduce the frequency of pressure ulcers or bedsores from extended immobility in a wheelchair or in bedridden patients.
Physical therapist Christina Hall of Levine Children’s Hospital in North Carolina, says, “What we are trying to do with electrical stimulation is make new pathways or help reeducate that muscle to contract or to elicit muscle building.” She says that the bike can be used to improve the conditions of those with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, and spinal cord injuries.
While Levine is currently the only pediatric facility in North Carolina to have the equipment, Hall hopes to make people aware that the treatment is out there and available as “an option, and this is something they can use to better their child or family member.”
Because there are certain risks with FES, such as leg fractures due to loss of bone density and the possibility of autonomic dysreflexia in upper-level injuries, a doctor’s prescription is required to undergo FES treatment, wherein patients are given a customized treatment program tailored to their needs and abilities.
Unfortunately, at this time Medicare will not pay for the $15,000 devices and, while some private insurance companies have reimbursed the cost, for many the best way to access the devices is at health clubs and rehab clinics.
The video below is an excellent demonstration of the FES bike. If you’ve ever used the FES bike, please share your experience with us. What’s your take on the bike’s capability?