Research Article
Issue Date: May/June 2020
Published Online: April 08, 2020
Updated: April 30, 2020
Use of Electrical Stimulation for People With Spinal Cord Injury: A Survey of Occupational Therapy Practitioners
Author Affiliations
  • Timothy P. Dionne, PhD, OTR/L, is Assistant Professor, Occupational Therapy Graduate Program, School of Medicine, The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque; tdionne@salud.unm.edu
  • James A. Lenker, PhD, OTR/L, FAOTA, is Associate Professor, Department of Rehabilitation Science, University at Buffalo, Buffalo, NY.
  • Patrick Hennessy, PT, MPT, NCS, is Clinical Knowledge Broker, Infinity Rehab, Wilsonville, OR.
  • Jane E. Sullivan, PT, DHS, MS, is Professor, Department of Physical Therapy and Human Movement Sciences, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago.
Article Information
Neurologic Conditions / Spinal Cord Injury / Research Articles
Research Article   |   April 08, 2020
Use of Electrical Stimulation for People With Spinal Cord Injury: A Survey of Occupational Therapy Practitioners
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, April 2020, Vol. 74, 7403205110. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2020.035584
American Journal of Occupational Therapy, April 2020, Vol. 74, 7403205110. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2020.035584
Abstract

Importance: When working with clients who have experienced spinal cord injury (SCI), occupational therapy practitioners can face challenges in achieving desired results during functional activity when using electrical stimulation (ES) interventions. In an effort to understand current practice, a survey study was conducted.

Objective: For people with SCI, ES elicits positive physiological effects; however, no implementation guidelines exist for upper extremity application of ES for this population. Therefore, we surveyed occupational therapy practitioners about their use of ES with clients who have cervical-level SCI.

Design: A 33-item, 20-min online survey was used.

Participants and Setting: We queried 57 occupational therapy practitioners with active caseloads in regional rehabilitation centers specializing in SCI, both outpatient and inpatient.

Results: For clients with SCI, occupational therapy practitioners used ES most often for grasp-and-release, reaching, and grip or pinch activities using a broad range of parameter settings. Among respondents, 43% did not use a specific treatment protocol; 27% used research evidence to guide selection of parameters.

Conclusions and Relevance: Findings suggest that ES treatment parameters are not uniformly applied, introducing potential unknown effects on client outcomes and undermining treatment fidelity.

What This Article Adds: Our survey of occupational therapy practitioners regarding their practice and use of ES interventions with this population revealed variation in application of ES treatment parameters. Understanding different treatment approaches and justification used when applying ES to clients with SCI is an important first step in unifying and promoting best practice and maximizing patient outcomes.