Systematic Review| Volume 102, ISSUE 8, P1595-1605, August 2021

Clinical Benefits and System Design of FES-Rowing Exercise for Rehabilitation of Individuals with Spinal Cord Injury: A Systematic Review

Published:February 05, 2021DOI:



      To comprehensively and critically appraise the clinical benefits and engineering designs of functional electrical stimulation (FES)-rowing for management of individuals with spinal cord injury (SCI).

      Data Sources

      Electronic database searches were conducted in Cumulative Index to Nursing & Allied Health Literature, Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Excerpta Medica database, Emcare, Medline, PubMed, Scopus, and Web of Science databases from inception to May 12, 2020.

      Study Selection

      Search terms used were synonyms of “spinal cord injury” for Population and “Electric Stimulation (Therapy)/ and rowing” for Intervention. Two reviewers independently assessed articles based on the following inclusion criteria: recruited individuals with SCI; had aerobic FES-rowing exercise as study intervention; reported cardiovascular, muscular, bone mineral density, or metabolic outcomes; and examined engineering design of FES-rowing systems. Of the 256 titles that were retrieved in the primary search, 24 were included in this study.

      Data Extraction

      Study characteristics, quality, participants’ characteristics, test descriptions, and results were independently extracted by 2 reviewers. The quality of studies was assessed with the Downs and Black checklist.

      Data Synthesis

      Comparison of peak oxygen consumption (V̇o2peak) rates showed that V̇o2peak during FES-rowing was significantly higher than arm-only exercise; FES-rowing training improved V̇o2peak by 11.2% on average (95% confidence interval, 7.25-15.1), with a 4.1% (95% confidence interval, 2.23-5.97) increase in V̇o2peak per month of training. FES-rowing training reduced bone density loss with increased time postinjury. The rowing ergometer used in 2 studies provided motor assistance during rowing. Studies preferred manual stimulation control (n=20) over automatic (n=4).


      Our results suggest FES-rowing is a viable exercise for individuals with SCI that can improve cardiovascular performance and reduce bone density loss. Further randomized controlled trials are needed to better understand the optimal set-up for FES-rowing that maximizes the rehabilitation outcomes.


      List of abbreviations:

      AO (arm-only), FES (functional electrical stimulation), RCT (randomized controlled trials), SCI (spinal cord injury), V̇o2peak (peak oxygen consumption)
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