Musculoskeletal Effects of 2 Functional Electrical Stimulation Cycling Paradigms Conducted at Different Cadences for People With Spinal Cord Injury: A Pilot Study

Published:December 16, 2015DOI:



      To compare the musculoskeletal effects of low cadence cycling with functional electrical stimulation (FES) with high cadence FES cycling for people with spinal cord injury (SCI).


      Randomized pre-post design.


      Outpatient rehabilitation clinic.


      Participants (N=17; 14 men, 3 women; age range, 22–67y) with C4-T6 motor complete chronic SCI were randomized to low cadence cycling (n=9) or high cadence cycling (n=8).


      Low cadence cycling at 20 revolutions per minute (RPM) and high cadence cycling at 50 RPM 3 times per week for 6 months. Cycling torque (resistance per pedal rotation) increased if targeted cycling cadence was maintained.

      Main Outcome Measures

      Dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry was used to assess distal femur areal bone mineral density, magnetic resonance imaging was used to assess to assess trabecular bone microarchitecture and cortical bone macroarchitecture and thigh muscle volume, and biochemical markers were used to assess bone turnover. It was hypothesized that subjects using low cadence cycling would cycle with greater torque and therefore show greater musculoskeletal improvements than subjects using high cadence cycling.


      A total of 15 participants completed the study. Low cadence cycling obtained a maximal average torque of 2.9±2.8Nm, and high cadence cycling obtained a maximal average torque of 0.8±0.2Nm. Low cadence cycling showed greater decreases in bone-specific alkaline phosphatase, indicating less bone formation (15.5% decrease for low cadence cycling, 10.7% increase for high cadence cycling). N-telopeptide decreased 34% following low cadence cycling, indicating decreased resorption. Both groups increased muscle volume (low cadence cycling by 19%, high cadence cycling by 10%). Low cadence cycling resulted in a nonsignificant 7% increase in apparent trabecular number (P=.08) and 6% decrease in apparent trabecular separation (P=.08) in the distal femur, whereas high cadence cycling resulted in a nonsignificant (P>.3) 2% decrease and 3% increase, respectively.


      This study suggests that the greater torque achieved with low cadence cycling may result in improved bone health because of decreased bone turnover and improved trabecular bone microarchitecture. Longer-term outcome studies are warranted to identify the effect on fracture risk.


      List of abbreviations:

      appBV/TV (apparent trabecular bone volume to total volume), appTb.N (apparent trabecular number), appTb.Sp (apparent trabecular separation), FES (functional electrical stimulation), MRI (magnetic resonance imaging), PTH (parathyroid hormone), RPM (revolutions per minute), SCI (spinal cord injury)
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