Electromyographic signal-activated functional electrical stimulation of abdominal muscles: The effect on pulmonary function in patients with tetraplegia

E. Spivak, O. Keren, D. Niv, J. Levental, F. Steinberg, D. Barak, B. Chen, A. Zupan, A. Catz*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Paralysis of abdominal muscles is the main cause of respiratory dysfunctions in patients with lower cervical spinal cord lesion. Activation of the abdominal muscles using functional electrical stimulation (FES) improved respiratory function in these patients. But application of FES frequently requires a caregiver, and it may not be well synchronized with the patient's respiratory activity. Objective: To perform preliminary examination of electromyographic (EMG)-activated FES for caregiver-independent and synchronized cough and expiration induction in tetraplegia. Design: Self-controlled study. Setting: Loewenstein Rehabilitation Center, Raanana, Israel. Subjects: A total of 10 male patients with complete or almost complete tetraplegia. Main outcome measures: Peak expiratory flow (PEF), forced vital capacity (FVC), and maximal voluntary ventilation (MVV). Methods: The outcome measures were examined with the abdominal muscles unassisted or assisted by various methods. These included manual assistance or application of FES, activated by a caregiver, by the patient, or by EMG signals elicited from the patient's muscle. Results: Manual assistance improved the mean PEF value by 36.7% (P<0.01) and the mean FVC value by 15.4% (P=0.01). FES did not significantly change most measurements, and patient-activated FES even reduced PEF (P<0.05). But following EMG-activated FES PEF and FVC values were higher than those following patient-activated FES (P<0.05 for PEF; P<0.01 for FVC), and their mean values were higher by 15.8 and 18.9%, respectively. Conclusions: Abdominal FES failed to improve respiratory function in this study, but applying FES to abdominal muscles by EMG from the patient's muscle may promote caregiver-free respiration and coughing in persons with cervical SCL.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-495
Number of pages5
JournalSpinal Cord
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2007


  • Cough
  • Electromyographic signals
  • Functional electrical stimulation
  • Spinal cord lesions
  • Tetraplegia


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