FES Bike Riding

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.

Riding the FES Bike
Riding the FES Bike

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38 thoughts on “FES Bike Riding

  1. Hi Arash, I just read your new mesage as it just popped up. I know how much you love bike riding and how this has been so much a part of your life, so I’m really struck with the FES bike riding that you’re doing. It’s really amazing. I can feel your tired muscles that you describe.
    I’m sending continuing love, support and Blessings to you, my remarkble friend.

  2. So exciting! I remember the first time PT’s strapped me to a seated stationary bike and it was such a great feeling. So glad to see you’re starting to use the FES bike. Your muscles will remember! 🙂

  3. That FES bike sounds fantastic. I like the sound of the tingling you feel after a ‘ride’. That’s great news.
    (By the way, are you able to get any lower leg massages to promote circulation)?

    1. Yeah pretty much any contact with my legs increases circulation and it helps to send that signal back to my brain as I get a lot of reflexes and movement when someone starts to touch or massage my lower legs. Just a matter of having loved ones and others help with that 🙂 -AB

  4. Arash, I read all the time your blog on wordspress. I admire your courage and strongness and straight hold on to recovery. Don’t you ever stop doing so. I believe in you. One day, you will be on that bike of you again!!!! God bless you, i love you .
    Lots of love greetings from the Netherlands

    1. Nelly thank you for your support. I’m honored I’ve been able to reach you all the way in the Netherlands and that you’re reading my blog. I would love to get back on that bike soon, I’m focused on it 100%. Best wishes to you -AB

      1. I admire you. I’m living with hep c and inspiration is one of my fuels. I’m reading all of your blogs. It’s astonishing the strength we have when life challenges us the hardest. You will fly again. Aloha

  5. Isn’t there some way to bypass the spinal chord injury? If those electrodes from got your legs to move you’d think they could connect your upper spine to below your injury somehow.

    1. Unfortunately, I don’t think it’s possible as the spinal cord is what carries the signal to and from the brain to the limbs. So even though the FES directly stimulates my muscles, the important thing is for me to be able to actively send the signal from my brain to tell that leg muscle to move, which happens over time and with the spinal cord healing. I like that you’re getting creative though! -AB

  6. Oh wow Arash ~ so happy i popped over to check on you. I somehow missed this in my reader – -and I’m sooo excited for you to have another tool to simulate this beloved sport both in imagery – and now also through this muscular impetus of the electrodes. Wow – you could feel the soreness in muscle after too? That is pretty amazing ~ keep us posted on your progress here — I wonder if you will start noticing muscle definition changes soon ~ I loved to bike too ~ one day!!
    xo RL

    1. Yes Robyn this is quite a great tool for rehab. I have noticed muscle definition so far. Those first few weeks in the hospital, I lost a ton of weight and a lot of that was in my legs but I was lucky that they didn’t actually atrophy too bad. Within a couple months my legs had regained most of their mass and thanks to spasms and reflexes and involuntary contractions of those muscles, the definition is almost what it was pre-accident. That’s one of the good things about the FES especially in people who have had much worse atrophy in their legs than me. So yeah, it’s pretty cool and I’m happy I get to use it, I only wish I could do it more… Hope you’re doing well still, sending positive vibes your way. -AB

  7. Hi Arash. I’ve been meaning to contact you for a while now. “What?” You’re probably thinking. “I don’t even know you!” Haha. I know. My friend Michael Housewright over at “The Blissful Adventurer” told me about you. A few weeks back, I checked out your site and was overwhelmed by your story and your courage and determination. I am in awe. You sound like the coolest guy ever and I am so impressed by you.

    The reason Michael told me about you was because I, too, had a pretty scary accident a few years ago. I shared it on my blog recently. I fell 80 feet while rock-climbing in Tennessee and nearly lost my life—more than once. It was a long recovery, and I am very fortunate to be alive and well today… That being said, what you are going through is more difficult than my “adventure.” Somehow (God knows how), while I shattered my right shoulder blade and socket into a million pieces, I managed to avoid injuring my spinal cord or neck. After the accident, I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to use my arm again (my nerves eventually grew back), but walking was never a problem…

    Anyway, friend, I too love to bike. I started riding after my accident, in fact, because walking was difficult with an arm that only wanted to dangle by my side. I’m glad you’re able to use cycling in your recovery! If you’d ever like to talk, you can find me on my blog or at jesscywriter@hotmail.com. I’m rooting for you and will be following your blog!

    1. Jessica I’m so honored and happy that you reached out to me. It’s meaningful for me to have connected with people whom I’ve never met but who’ve contacted me from reading my blog. So thank you! I’m glad you shared your story with me and it sounds like you too have experienced the “joys” (sarcasm…) of rehabbing your body back to health. Props to you for that and it seems as if you’ve recovered fully now? Great to meet you and I will certainly stay in touch with you and check out your blog. -AB

      1. Hi again! Thank you so much for the reply. It is wonderful to be in contact with you, too. Again, I am so inspired reading your story. I hope riding the FES bike continues to help! If you want to start at the beginning of my story, the link to the first part is right here: http://jesscy.com/2013/01/26/how-to-not-die-the-fall/… And, please, don’t think I’m trying to self-promote. That’s not what this is about at all. (I can’t stand it when bloggers do that, actually.) I just wanted to tell you a little about what happened to me. Be encouraged! People all over are cheering for you!!!

      2. I am certainly encouraged by your story and not worried at all about self-promotion so don’t worry. I like it that you are genuinely sharing your story that pertains to mine in many ways. I’m already reading about your situation and am intrigued to say the least! Thank you again. Happy to be in contact -AB

  8. I truly hope that this helps you get back on your feet and back on your bike real soon. I know it’s a long, slow, arduous path you have to take, but it is sounding promising. Are you able to move more than just your toe now? How is everything progressing?

    1. Progress is slow but steady nevertheless. Still just the one toe but I’m waiting for the next thing impatiently! Trust me, I’ll make it known once something else starts moving. What is encouraging though is that I’ve talked to a few other people with similar injuries and they said their movement began with a toe too. So I just gotta keep working hard and hoping for the best. Thanks for asking -AB

      1. Oh fantastic! That is encouraging. 🙂 Are you wiggling your toe every chance you get now? I truly hope that you get more movement soon. It’s a very slow process but I can tell you have determination and stamina and will get there!!!!!

  9. I’ve been extremely busy with college, but I had some time to check out how you’re doing. So glad to see you on a RT300! I love them. I ride every other day for 1 hour. Have you used the arm bike yet?

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