My Bionic Leg, Part 2

The first step in getting a Bioness functional electrical stimulation (FES) unit is to go through a free assessment with one of their reps.  It lasts about an hour and is performed at a nearby physical therapy facility.  The purpose of the assessment is for you to try it out, get your questions answered and see if it might work for you.  That last point is very important.  As I mentioned in my last post, insurance doesn’t typically cover FES for MS and it is quite pricey.

I first tried the unit with just the lower cuff that is worn beneath the knee.  I then added the thigh band with the contacts set up to stimulate my hamstring.  One very important item to note:  If you have difficulty walking because of weak hip flexor, this is not going to help you.  My left hip flexor is a little weaker than my right, but only slightly.

I went to the assessment with hopeful optimism.  A review of Bioness’ website and youtube showed numerous before and after videos that are downright miraculous.  They show  people struggling to crawl along with a walker or stand unassisted, that can then amazingly walk normally with the Bioness.  Several of the transformations are so dramatic that it is hard to believe they are not fake.

As a refresher, the Bioness L300 Plus has four components:  A sensor in the heal of your shoe that triggers the cycle, a cuff worn just beneath the knee which delivers an electrical shock to your shin causing you ankle to flex upward, a band on your thigh which sends a shock to either your quadricep or hamstring, causing contraction and a remote control to turn the unit on and off and adjust the intensity.  All four communicate wirelessly.  I wore the thigh unit on my hamstring as I have a problem with reduced control at the end of knee extension, sometimes even resulting in hyperextension.

What was the verdict?  Mixed with a tilt toward positive.  It wasn’t magical.  I didn’t instantly go from limping to running.  However, there were some real positives.  First off, walking was much easier.  Before MS, I didn’t have to think about walking.  Over the last year, I’ve increasingly had to consciously think about each movement in a step.  Push off, lift leg, lift toe, put heel down, roll to toe etc.  Mentally, it is very tiring.  I was thrilled that with the Bioness taking over some of the steps, I could go back to walking without having to think about it so much.  This helped tremendously with my endurance.  Also helping was that the Bioness made it easier to walk in a more even gait.  It was eye opening to me just how much I was favoring my good leg.  This caused the limp along with some hip pain.  With the Bioness on, I was placing the weight much more evenly between my two legs.  My walking wasn’t normal, but it was more even, less painful and overall easier.

The bottom line….  I’m still not sure that it is worth $10k yet, but the assessment was positive enough to warrant spending $1k for a month to see.