What is Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES)?​

Have you ever wondered what that small device and sticking electrodes that therapist use on your kid’s arms and legs? 

As Allied Health Practitioners, we implement Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) as a new exercise tool. The device is used to facilitate more efficient function for children with a range of neurological conditions but what exactly is FES and how does it work?

By Kaitlyn Winter, Accredited Exercise Physiologist

What is Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES)?

A Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) device is a piece of technology that applies electrical impulses to weakened, damaged or paralysed muscles to help improve function, capability and mobility.

The human body naturally uses small electrical impulses otherwise known as nerve signals to cause muscles to move. If the body is unable to generate or effectively transmit nerve signals from the brain to the desired muscle, then the muscle will be unable to move in the desired way. For a person unable to move a muscle due to injury or a condition which has affected the central nervous system, FES devices can be used to compensate for this deficit.

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How does FES Work?

A Functional Electrical Stimulation device provides a low-level electrical impulse to a specific region, causes a muscle contraction and in turn produces movement of the joint or limb. The ‘functional’ in ‘functional electrical stimulation’ refers to this contraction being used to enable activity or movement, rather than a purely therapeutic reason such as pain relief.

In therapy, FES can be used to facilitate a reaching pattern with the upper limb, or to reduce foot drop and improve the speed and ease of walking.

Current research is investigating the effects of FES devices on neurological rehabilitation, especially from a neuroplasticity (changes in the brain) perspective and if external stimulation of a muscle can help the brain adapt and heal to create a lasting benefit even after the device has been removed.

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests a range of functional improvements for children with cerebral palsy and we are excited to see these changes here at Centre of Movement. 

While more research is needed to determine the lasting training effects of FES, FES is an exciting new therapy for many individuals with cerebral palsy and other neuromuscular disorders.


  1. Chiu, H.C. and L. Ada (2014). Effect of functional electrical stimulation on activity in children with cerebral palsy: a systematic review. Paediatric Physical Therapy. 26(3): p. 283-288. 
  2. Van der Linden, M.L., et al. (2008). Functional electrical stimulation to the dorsiflexors and quadriceps in children with cerebral palsy. Paediatric Physical Therapy. 20: p. 23-39. 
  3. Pool, D., et al. (2015). Neuromuscular electrical stimulation-assisted gait increases muscle strength and volume in children with unilateral spastic cerebral palsy. Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology. 58(5): p. 492-501. 
  4. Pool, D., et al. (2015). The orthotic and therapeutic effects following daily community applied functional electrical stimulation in children with unilateral spastic cerebral palsy: A randomised controlled trial. BMC Paediatrics. 15: p. 154-163. 
  5. Park, E.S., et al. (2001). The effect of electrical stimulation on the trunk control in young children with spastic diplegic cerebral palsy. Journal of Korean medical science. 16(3): p. 347-350. 

Wright PA, Granat MH. Therapeutic effects of functional electrical stimulation of the upper limb of eight children with cerebral palsy. Dev Med Child Neurol. 2000;42(11):724-727.

"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much"

– Helen Keller

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