WalkAide and Multiple Sclerosis Drop Foot

December 14, 2015

Multiple Sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition that affects the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. The damage to nerves often leads to drop foot. One way of combating this problem is through the use of an FES device, such as WalkAide.

MS is the most common condition of the central nervous system affecting young adults. Over 100,000 people in the UK have MS. It is nearly three times more common in women than in men. Most people are diagnosed in their 20s and 30s but it can be diagnosed in younger and older people.

WalkAide can help people with MS-related drop foot to walk normally again or at least with a much more improved gait.

Functional Electrical Stimulation and MS Drop Foot

What is Drop Foot?

What is Drop Foot

Drop foot is a muscular weakness or paralysis that makes it difficult to lift the front part of your foot and toes. It can cause you to drag your foot along the ground when walking. You might struggle to clear a surface, such as a step, due to a drop foot which may cause higher risks of falling. Having a drop foot can make walking more effortful and tiring due to the altered walking pattern / gait.

Drop foot usually results from damage to the peroneal nerve, which is the nerve that helps control the muscles on the front and sides of the legs, and the top of the foot.  Damage to this nerve affects how well you can lift your foot.

In MS, foot drop is caused by weakness in the ankle or disruption in the nerve path to and from the brain, rather than in the nerves within the leg muscles. This results in poor coordination in the leg and ankle affecting the way you walk. If the coordination between the nerve messages and leg and ankle muscles is out of sync, the foot cannot be lifted to the correct angle at the right point when taking a step, so that the toes drag or catch along the floor or you ‘slap’ your foot down.

What is Functional Electrical Stimulation?

Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) is a well-established rehabilitation technique that involves using controlled pulses of electrical current to stimulate intact peripheral nerves. This can create muscle contractions in paralysed or weak muscles in clients presenting with upper motor neurone injuries in order to perform a functional activity.

WalkAide uses sophisticated sensor technology and software. It analyses the unique movement of your leg and foot,  and based on the analysis, WalkAide creates a stimulation pattern for walking which is customised for each patient.

The Walkaide sends appropriate functional electrical stimulation (FES) to the common peroneal nerve which activates the muscle that lifts up the foot (Tibialis Anterior) at the appropriate time during the gait cycle. Thus producing a much more natural, efficient and safe pattern of walking.

The Latest FES Research

There have been two studies on FES devices and MS which found very positive results.

One research article looked at 40 people with MS who were on a rehabilitation program that included cycling with an FES. They noted improved motor skills and stability after theory in 75% of those with primary progressive MS, 71% of those with secondary progressive MS and 55% of those with relapsing-remitting MS. The research, which was published in June 2014 in the Journal of Spinal Cord Medicine, concluded that using FES as part of rehabilitation could help maintain or even improve functioning in people with MS.

In another study, published in March 2014 in Disability and Rehabilitation: Assistive Technology, researchers evaluated how well the WalkAide worked on 20 men and women who were already using it. They compared participants’ walking ability without an FES to how they performed with each of the devices and found that walking speed was higher with WalkAide than it was unassisted.

WalkAide and MS

Faye Dearden, our WalkAide clinician manager, has seen some impressive results with patients using WalkAide, with much improvement in their walking pattern.

“WalkAide can help with speed and efficiency of walking for people with MS, so fatigue can be less.  It improves the awareness of the foot and improves confidence of walking for people using it.  Some of our patients have also said that the strength of their foot lift improves, when using the device over a period of time.”

Using a WalkAide makes walking safer by lowering the risk of failing and gives people more confidence to go outside and get involved in activities that maybe they wouldn’t have had the confidence to do before using WalkAide.

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