Hindlimb kinematics of Spinal Cord Injured (SCI) rodents trained by Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) timed with Robotically Controlled Treadmill Training (RTT)

Functional electrical stimulation (FES) is designed to artificially trigger muscle activations that help to recover some impaired or lost neurological functions due to spinal cord injuries (SCI). However, present FES technology depends on imprecisely controlled timing and results in unnatural gait patterns and quick fatigue onset. A new engineering approach was proposed to time the stimulation to robotically controlled treadmill training (RTT) in spinal cord injured (SCI) rodents during walking. The objective of this research is to test whether FES timed to RTT (FES + RTT) improves the long-term ability of rats to step, as measured by three sets of key outcome measures: 1) joint angle kinematics; 2) step height, length, and rate; and 3) the tendency to step independently. Kinematic analysis showed that rats receiving FES timed to RTT produced more appropriate ankle flexion, stepped more efficiently, and produced more independent stepping than those receiving stimulation without RTT.