Better Care

Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES)


Service operating at reduced capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions. Please refer as normal.

During recent months, like all NHS organisations we have been dealing with the impact of Covid-19.

Please click here to download some top tips which we need you to be aware of when visiting the West Midlands Rehabilitation Centre for an outpatient appointment.

What is Functional Electrical Stimulation?

FES stimulates nerves using small electrical impulses to activate muscles. It is used widely in rehabilitation and maintenance of function where there is muscle weakness or tightness.

Two adhesive patches (electrodes) are placed on the skin - one close to the nerve supplying the muscle and one over the centre of the muscle. Leads connect the electrodes to a stimulator that produces the impulses.

How FES can help walking

The most common problem treated by FES is called dropped foot. This is the inability to lift the foot and toes when walking, causing them to drag on the ground. It is caused by weakness of the muscles that lift the foot and tightness (spasticity) in the muscles of the calf.

Stimulation is given to the muscles at the front of the leg which activates the muscles that lift the foot during walking. A switch worn in the shoe triggers the stimulation. The electrical signals reach the muscle through electrodes.

The stimulator is the size of a pack of cards and is operated by a small battery. It can be worn at the waist on a belt, in a pocket or on a knee strap.

Electrical stimulation can help people walk safer, faster, with less effort and with more confidence.

How stimulation can be used to improve arm and hand function

This is much more varied and complicated. Stimulation is given as an exercise to strengthen weak muscles or relax tight ones. This sort of stimulation is used as part of physiotherapy.

Who is the service for?

People who have difficulty moving due to damage to their brain or spinal cord can benefit from FES - both adults and children. Patients who use FES may have Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Cerebral Palsy (CP), Stroke, incomplete spinal cord injury, brain injury or other neurological conditions.

FES is not effective with peripheral nerve damage. To be effective, the nerve fibres between the spinal cord and muscles need to be intact. The impulses need to travel along the nerves to reach the muscles.

Are there any risks or side effects?

Stimulation causes a tingling 'pins and needles' sensation on the skin. While most people find it comfortable, a few cannot tolerate the sensation and therefore do not use it.

At times, even though patients are carefully assessed, we find that treatment has not helped them or they are unable to use the stimulator effectively. In these cases, stimulation will be stopped.

Occasionally, patients find that electrodes irritate their skin. Using hypoallergenic electrodes or changing the type of stimulation used can solve the problem.

Very rarely, we have found that stimulation increases the muscle tightness (spasticity) and, in these cases, treatment will be stopped.

Referral Process

Referrals are received from healthcare professionals and are screened. The patient is invited for an assessment to decide whether FES is a suitable treatment for them.

Click here to download the Functional Electrical Stimulation referral form.


Assessment and ongoing care

An assessment takes about an hour. If patients do not respond to FES, they will be discharged. If FES can help, an appointment will be booked to issue a FES machine and teach the patient how to use it. Outcome measures are recorded for future comparison.

Further appointments are made so that the progress can be measured and adjustments made to the stimulator or exercise programme.

Some patients use stimulation independently everyday – others use it as part of their physiotherapy treatment. Some patients continue to use FES for many years, others only for a period of a few months. Treatment continues for as long as it is appropriate for the patient.

Additional information and referral form:


Relevant web pages


Contact Us

Functional electrical stimulation 

Christine Singleton
Clinical specialist (FES)
Tel: 0121 466 3232