Respiratory failure is the primary cause of morbidity/mortality in spinal cord injury (SCI) patients. SCI patients commonly have impaired respiratory muscle functions making it difficult to clear airways often resulting in respiratory complications. Functional electrical stimulation (FES) is a non-invasive application of electrical pulses to a motor nerve, causing muscles to contract. For patients with impaired ventilatory respiration, FES can be applied to the abdominal muscles (Abdominal-FES) to activate paralysed respiratory muscles.
Literature search was performed on PubMed for peer-reviewed articles that investigated the effect of FES on respiratory function in human subjects. Keywords used were electrical stimulation or functional electrical stimulation or muscle stimulation, and respiratory function or respiration or cough or tidal volume.
Abdominal-FES is effective in significantly decreasing pulmonary complications in SCI patients both in acute and chronic settings. These combined results may overall improve quality of life, morbidity, and mortality. Furthermore, given the noninvasive nature of FES, cheap utilization cost, and decreased ventilatory duration, Abdominal-FES has high potential to result in significant cost savings in patients who require acute ventilatory support in the ICU. This effect suggests a possible expanded use of Abdominal-FES to all SCI patients regardless of prior history of respiratory failure or need of ventilation.