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The benefits of FES cycling for people with multiple sclerosis (MS)

How can FES cycling help those with MS?

What is FES cycling?

Stationary cycling combined with electrical stimulation applied to the leg muscles (FES cycling) is commonly used by people with spinal cord injury to maintain good health of their paralyzed limbs. Recent studies have highlighted the fact that FES cycling is beneficial for people with other neurological disorders, especially stroke and multiple sclerosis (MS). An upcoming post will discuss the benefits for people with stroke, while this post will focus on the benefits for people with MS.

Effects of FES cycling on MS patients

A recent pilot study conducted by Deborah Backus, PhD, PT, and her team at the Shepherd Center assessed the effects of FES cycling on outcomes for people with MS [1]. Previous studies on the outcomes of FES cycling training for ambulatory people with MS have demonstrated improvements in strength, walking endurance and speed, and even mental health and quality of life [2]. However, the effects of FES cycling training for non-ambulatory people with MS haven’t been adequately studied, so Backus and her team set out to do just that.

Fourteen people (8 men and 6 women) with MS participated in the study. Participants ranged from 31 to 70 years old, and had been diagnosed with MS from 3 to 28 years ago. Only non-ambulatory people with MS could participate, meaning that they had to be unable to walk more than 70 feet at a time and has to use a wheelchair outside their homes. Participants completed 12 30-minute FES cycling sessions over four weeks.

The results of the FES cycling training indicate that not only is FES cycling safe for non-ambulatory people with MS, but also that such training provides physical benefits and improved quality of life to people with moderate to severe MS. All the participants were able to increase their cycling time and/or resistance over the course of the training, suggesting that their ability to cycle improved as a result of the FES cycling training. While the training had little effect on muscle strength or spasticity, the study participants reported that transfers and walking at home were easier after the FES cycling training, suggesting that the training had functional benefits for the study participants. Perhaps most importantly, the participants reported that the social aspects of their life had improved as a result of the study, suggesting that the FES cycling training had a positive effect on the participants’ quality of life.

Despite the fact that this was only a 4-week pilot study, the outcomes are promising for people with moderate to severe MS. More in-depth research is needed to learn more about the potential benefits of FES cycling training for people with MS. To that end, a team of researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is embarking on a 6-month clinical study to examine the effects of FES cycling training on walking performance and physiological function among people with severe MS [3]. Based on the pilot data from the Shepherd Center, the results of this longer study are expected to be positive.

While FES cycling is typically associated with spinal cord injury, its benefits extend to people with other neurological disorders, especially stroke and MS. These benefits include:

  • Improved walking and cycling ability
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Improved physical, mental, and social well-being
  • Better quality of life

Exciting research into the benefits of FES cycling for people with MS is being conducted at places like the Shepherd Center and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. If you or someone you love has MS and is interested in FES cycling, contact us today to learn how the MyoCycle Home can meet your needs!


[1] Deborah Backus, Blake Burdett, Laura Hawkins, Christine Manella, Kevin K. McCully, and Mark Sweatman (2016) Pilot Study of Outcomes After Functional Electrical Stimulation Cycle Training in Individuals with Multiple Sclerosis Who Are Nonambulatory. International Journal of MS Care.

[2] John N. Ratchford, Wendy Shore, Edward R. Hammond, Gregory J. Rose, Robert Rifkin, Pingting Nie, Kevin Tan, Megan E. Quigg, Barbara J. de Lateur, and Douglas A. Kerr (2010) A pilot study of functional electrical stimulation cycling in progressive multiple sclerosis. NeuroRehabilitation.

[3] Lara A. Pilutti, Robert W. Motl, Thomas A. Edwards, and Kenneth R. Wilund (2016) Rationale and design of a randomized controlled clinical trial of functional electrical stimulation cycling in persons with severe multiple sclerosis. Contemporary Clinical Trials Communications.