Neuromuscular electrical stimulation can improve mobility in older adults but the time course varies across tasks: Double-blind, randomized trial

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Declines in mobility with advancing age are often associated with a reduction in the use of lower leg muscles. We examined the influence of two interventions that involved neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) applied to the triceps surae muscles on the mobility and muscle function of older adults. Thirty healthy older adults (73.5±4.8yrs) participated in a 6-week intervention comprising 3 weekly sessions of either narrow- or wide-pulse NMES. Motor function was assessed at Weeks 0, 4, 7, and 10. There were no statistically significant differences in the changes in mobility for the two groups of participants, so the data for the two groups were combined to examine changes across time. Time to walk 400m decreased and maximal walking speed increased after 3wks of NMES (Week 4) but did not change further at Weeks 7 and 10. In contrast, time to complete the chair-rise and rapid-step tests decreased progressively up to Week 7 but did not change further at Week 10. Moreover, the increase in plantar flexor strength was only observed at Week 7. NMES can elicit improvements in the motor function of older adults, but the time course of the adaptations differs across the mobility tests.

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