I LOVE riding bikes. Before my accident, I rode my durable street bike to and from work and all over town since it was my primary source of transportation. Having worked as a bike tour leader for over five years, I also appreciated the joys of recreational bike riding and would spend many weekend days on my speedy little road bike, cycling up and down and over and through so many of the most scenic locations in the Bay Area. One of the things I miss the most about my current physical challenges is the ability to have that freedom of walking out the door, hopping on a bike and zooming around on two wheels all with the strength of my own legs.
So I was pretty excited when I first learned about using an FES bike and its benefits for treating Spinal Cord Injury. FES (Functional Electrical Stimulation) involves placing electrodes on legs, arms, abs, back, glute, or any other muscles that are not functioning 100% and then applying electric pulses to those muscles and “forcing” them to work. It can be used in a lot of ways in rehab but the bike is one of the most common ways for treating lower extremities. The idea is that the electrodes plug into a sophisticated machine (with software that can be programmed specifically to each person’s needs) while the legs and feet are strapped into a stationary bike, and the electrical stimulation being sent to the muscles makes them engage and actually pedal the bike. The whole machine costs close to $18,000 so I only have access to it twice a week when I go to SCI-FIT to work out, but after an hour on the bike, my legs tingle and fatigue and feel worn out (in an amazing way) because those quads and calves and hamstring muscles were actually used.
It’s certainly no replacement for riding outdoors with hills and climbs and descents and curves and sweat and all the other goodness of riding an actual bike, but it’s a great indication that my muscles remember what pedaling feels like and that the muscle memory from all those miles I biked before my accident will help my legs come back to life.