Broken skin: my Functional Electrical Stimulation story

Broken skin: my Functional Electrical Stimulation story

Irritating, the tarmac is broken, like my skin

MS affects my left leg and I have been using an FES since late 2014. For the previous 10 years I had used a Musmate a simple mechanical device that is a walking aid for foot-drop. My foot-drop and leg-drop mean that I cannot walk unaided and I walk very slowly. My Functional Electrical Stimulation story started in June 2021.


Leg-drop means I cannot lift my leg so walking upstairs is exceedingly difficult. Foot drop means that I cannot lift the front of the foot so if the pavement is uneven and I will trip over.

An FES sends small pulses of electrical stimulation to the nerves that cause muscles, affected by MS, to contract. Self-adhesive electrodes are placed on the skin over the affected nerves.

Over the last 6 months my skin has suffered irritation where the self-adhesive electrodes are placed. I got out the trusty Musmate and hardly used the FES, my walking has deteriorated.

Broken skin: my Functional Electrical Stimulation story

Broken skin, I ignored the itch

End of March

The power setting on the FES was set quite high and I walking outside about 500 metres every day. I had some stupid idea of doing this for 6 months and therefore walk the equivalent of Marble Arch to Dover. Removing electrodes I saw my skin was red and sore but I’m a man, so I ignored the pain.

A couple of days later suddenly walking was very painful when the FES stimulated the foot-drop electrodes. I looked at the skin.

“Bloody hell” I mutter, “my skin is a real mess”. Over half a dozen little pimples and some had broken the skin. To cut a long story short I was told not to use the FES until the skin had healed. I tried again after four weeks but the same problem reoccurred within two days.

I spoke to the physiotherapy department at the National Hospital in Queen Square and an arranged an appointment for the end of June meanwhile the FES languished in a cupboard. My Functional Electrical Stimulation story

End of June

I rolled up at the physiotherapy outpatient department armed with my FES. It was a lengthy appointment. At the end muscles to help my walking were being stimulated. I still had to use the Musmate to help with my foot-drop. I must turn down the power of stimulation to the electrodes. Told to keep an eye on my skin then sent on my way. All in all I am a much happier person.

Minor problem this time

End of July

One evening I remove an electrode and I can see tiny red dimples on my skin.

“Not again, I must abandon my FES completely and start using the Musmate.”

My wife said “Its time to see if Dr Google can help”.

“Use Eumovate cream for one week and then Double Bass until fully healed” was the gist.

Early August

The tiny red dimples have almost cleared after less than a week. Research tells me this sort of problem can occur even when the FES has been used for several years.

Moral of the story

Patrick, don’t try to be tough and pretend there is no pain. Just sort it straight away.

I have just started using it again. So far so good.

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Associated articles

MuSmate a walking aid for footdrop






Walking is 28% Faster with an FES







Sticky electrodes and my FES






August 2021

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