Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES)
The National MS Society frequently fields questions about functional electrical stimulation (FES) — usually in relation to the products WalkAide from Innovative Neurotronics, NESS L300™ from Bioness® and the Odstock Dropped Foot Stimulator from Odstock Medical Limited in the United Kingdom.
Following is some information about what scientists know — and what they still need to learn — about the effectiveness of these devices for people with MS.
Most MS rehabilitation specialists recommend physical therapy and, if needed, a brace or “ankle foot orthosis” to treat foot drop. The brace, which is usually made of plastic, is worn around the lower leg and foot. It supports the ankle and holds both foot and ankle in a flexed position.
Two new devices — the WalkAide and NESS L300 — are now on the U.S. market to alleviate foot drop. They work by sending low-level electrical impulses to the peroneal (sometimes called fibular) nerve, which signals leg muscles to lift the foot. Seen as easier to wear and more convenient by many users, they are also a great deal more expensive — about $5,000-$6,000 — and typically not covered by insurance.
The FES products used for foot drop are reputable, but not everyone with MS experiences positive results. For the devices to work, the peroneal nerve must be capable of sending a signal and the muscles must be capable of receiving it. In MS, a variety of complications may prevent this from happening.
Since scientific studies on FES and foot drop have focused primarily on people who have had a stroke, we do not have enough data yet to know how broadly useful such products might be for people with MS as a whole.
Prospective users need to check out the terms associated with product trials. The Society has received reports of patients losing their deposits when they wanted to return the devices after finding them ineffective.