To study the utility and functional benefits of an implanted functional electrical stimulation (FES) system for hand grasp and release in adolescents with tetraplegia secondary to spinal cord injuries.

Intervention study with before-after trial measurement with each subject as his or her own control.

Nonprofit pediatric orthopedic rehabilitation facility specializing in spinal cord injury.

A convenience sample of five adolescents between 16 and 18 years of age with C5 or C6 level tetraplegia at least 1 year after traumatic spinal cord injury. Key muscles for palmar and lateral grasp and release were excitable by electrical stimulation.

A multichannel stimulator/receiver and eight electrodes were surgically implanted to provide stimulated palmar and lateral grasp and release. In conjunction with implantation of the FES hand system, surgical reconstruction in the form of tendon transfers, tendon lengthenings and releases, and joint arthrodeses was performed to augment stimulated hand function. Rehabilitation of the tendon transfers and training in the use of the FES hand system were provided.

Measurements of pinch and grasp force, the Grasp and Release Test (GRT), and an assessment of six activities of daily living (ADL) were administered before implantation of the FES hand system and at regular follow-up intervals. Results of the stimulated response of individual muscles and surgical reconstruction were evaluated using standard and stimulated muscle testing techniques and standard assessment of joint range of motion. All subjects completed followup testing.

Lateral and palmar forces were significantly greater than baseline forces (p = .043). Heavy objects on the GRT could only be manipulated with FES, and FES increased the level of independence in 25 of 30 ADL comparisons (5 subjects, 6 activities) as compared to baseline. After training, FES was preferred in 21 of 30 comparisons over the typical means of task completion. Of the 40 electrodes implanted, 37 continue to provide excellent stimulated responses and all of the implanted stimulators have functioned without problems. The surgical reconstruction procedures greatly enhanced FES hand function by either expanding the workspace in which to utilize FES (deltoid to triceps transfer), stabilizing the wrist (brachioradialis to wrist extensor transfer), or stabilizing joints (intrinsic tenodesis transfer, FPL split transfer).

For five adolescents with tetraplegia, the combination of FES and surgical reconstruction provided active palmar and lateral grasp and release. Laboratory-based assessments demonstrated that the FES system increased pinch force, improved the manipulation of objects, and typically increased independence in six standard ADL as compared to pre-FES hand function. The study also showed that the five adolescents generally preferred FES for most of the ADL tested. Data on the benefits of the implanted FES hand system outside of the laboratory are needed to understand the full potential of FES.