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Page last updated: 22nd December 2022

Dr James Sleigh, our Scientific Research Correspondent summarises here what is known:

The electrical stimulation of muscles is thought to improve muscle weakness in some scenarios. For example, electrical stimulation can help patients with advanced progressive diseases that affect ability to exercise, such as chronic respiratory disease, chronic heart failure and cancer¹.

However, this does not appear to be the case for those living with SMA. To test the therapeutic effect of electrical muscle stimulation, in 2002 researchers in Canada conducted a small-scale clinical trial with thirteen children aged 5 to 19 years and living with SMA Types 2 and 3².

Low-intensity muscle stimulation was applied to two different muscles – the bicep and the deltoid (found in the shoulder region) – on one, randomly-selected side of the body. The muscles on other side of the body received a placebo stimulator that turned off after 15 minutes. Electrical stimulation was given at night time in the homes of participants, starting at bed time and being turned off in the morning. An average of four hours of stimulation per night was received.

Participants were first assessed for six months without stimulation, followed by a treatment duration of 6 months. Unfortunately, the electrical stimulation of muscles had no effect on arm strength, muscle mass or arm function, indicating that the treatment was ineffective. To date, no other clinical trials of electrical stimulation have been conducted in SMA.


1. Jones et al. (2016) Neuromuscular electrical stimulation for muscle weakness in adults with advanced disease. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 10: CD009419.

2. Fehlings et al. (2002) Evaluation of therapeutic electrical stimulation to improve muscle strength and function in children with types II/III spinal muscular atrophy. Dev Med Child Neurol 44: 741-744.