Electrical stimulation cycling exercise for advanced MS

Dr Ché Fornusek

The University of Sydney, NSW

| Better treatments | Social And Applied Research | Incubator | 2014 | Investigator Led Research |


The objective of Dr Ché Fornusek’s project is to investigate whether electrical muscle stimulation can assist persons with severe MS to perform exercise. Exercise is beneficial for maintaining strength, function, quality of life and mental health in people with MS. However, as the illness progresses, advancing paralysis reduces (and eventually eliminates) the ability to exercise effectively, and those with severe MS are often wheelchair bound and forced into inactivity. An inactive lifestyle can accelerate the deterioration in fitness, quality of life, global function, and independence.

This project is a pilot clinical trial where participants with severe MS will exercise on a specially designed modified bicycle “exercycle” that uses electrical muscle stimulation to activate muscle contractions to drive the pedals. Dr Fornusek has designed an electrical stimulation cycling exercise which has been specifically modified to be suitable for persons with MS. This trial will evaluate the benefits of electrical stimulation cycling exercise program for persons with advanced MS.

Electrical stimulation cycling exercise has been used safely for 30 years in people with spinal cord injury; the benefits for those with spinal cord injury include improved cardiovascular and lower limb health and reduced spasticity. The researchers predict that electrical stimulation cycling will have similar if not greater benefits to persons with advanced MS.

By enabling those with severe MS to exercise, electrical stimulation cycling has enormous potential to improve their lives. The likely impact is that electrical stimulation cycling exercise can increase metabolic health, function, and quality of life. The data that is gathered will be used to plan a larger trial which will determine the clinical significance of electrical stimulation for persons with advanced MS but also determine how electrical stimulation can best realistically be applied and translated to the MS community.

Project Outcomes

Preliminary results from seven participants who completed the electrical stimulation cycling training program suggests that regular (3x per week) training is beneficial for the lower limbs of people with advanced MS.  People with advanced MS have limited capacity to exercise their legs; this causes the leg muscles to become deconditioned and lead to rapid muscle wasting. In Dr Fornusek’s study, intense electrical stimulation induced strong contractions in the leg muscles of the participants. This forced movement of the legs resulted in a 12% increase on average of the   muscle mass in the thigh muscles after the training period.

Dr Fornusek and his team believe that further refinement of the analysis program may lead to more accurate results which may reveal even greater gains. Participants have also reported moderately increased leg strength and a number of other benefits including less spasticity, better blood flow to the legs, and increased leg muscle endurance. The researchers are planning to extend their cohort this year.

This pilot study has revealed that electric stimulation of muscles could be beneficial and help manage the some of the symptoms of MS.

Updated: 26 May 2016

Updated: 03 January, 2014



  • Professor Joshua Burns, The University of Sydney, NSW
  • Dr Alistair McEwen, The University of Sydney, NSW
  • Dr Phu Hoang, Neuroscience Research Australia, NSW

Grant Awarded

  • Incubator Grant

Total Funding

  • $25,000


  • 1 year over 2014

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Electrical stimulation cycling exercise for advanced MS