Multiple Sclerosis Research Unit
Functional Electrical Stimulation

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The development of Functional Muscle Stimulation to assist walking.
FESTIVAL project.

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Thumbnail link to image of Functional Muscle Stimulation used to assist walkingThis is a project looking at the problems that many people with MS face when they have footdrop. Footdrop is weakness at the ankle making it difficult to bend the foot up. This causes problems, especially when walking as the person has difficulty clearing the ground and starts to trip up or even fall over. They also have to compensate for the inability to bend at the ankle by such methods as hitching their hip, using a walking aid or use of a splint to hold the ankle in a manageable position. The project involves the development of a Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) device - a small muscle stimulator worn on the leg that will pull the foot up by stimulating the weakened muscle. This was achieved through electrodes placed over the affected muscle. This device is unique in that it can be triggered either by a pressure sensor worn in the shoe or by using the actual messages (EMG) that the muscle produces when it tries to move. The FES device can be programmed to stimulate the weak muscle at the correct time during walking to prevent tripping. Many volunteers, both here and at a rehabilitation centre in Belgium have used the devices which were tested extensively and the information collected was used at each stage of development throughout the duration of the project. The FES device is also being used by physiotherapists during treatment sessions to assist with the retraining of walking and this is proving to be very useful. We hope that this device will be available commercially in the near future.

This project is being developed in collaboration with the Medical Electronics Group in Bristol Univeristy's Faculty of Engineering.