New therapy helping patients cycle to independence

Dec. 03, 2015

Canada's first arm cycling program at Parkwood Institute is helping patients with a spinal cord injury

A new therapy at St. Joseph’s Parkwood Institute is helping Dan Harvey with simple tasks most would take for granted like adjusting a thermostat, reaching the radio in his van, or turning on a light switch.

In 2003, when Harvey was just 17, he ricocheted off a trampoline and landed head first in a foam-filled pit. “I had no idea what was happening, I just knew I couldn’t move and called for help,” he says. The fall resulted in a compression fracture of his C4 cervical vertebrae and an incomplete spinal cord injury, which means he still has some motor function in his arms.

To increase his muscle strength, reduce neck and shoulder pain, increase range of motion, and reduce muscle spasms Harvey is working with the Upper Extremity Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) Program—an arm cycling program for those with a spinal cord injury who have upper limb paralysis or weakness.

When the spinal cord is working as it should, the body sends electrical impulses to contract muscles. Because this process doesn’t work for those with a spinal cord injury, the FES cycle replicates the process. It cycles forward and backward for a programmed period of time, targeting specific muscle groups to contract when they receive electrical stimulation through electrodes. “I can actually feel the electrical current going into my muscles,” says Harvey.

If the muscle fibers become fatigued during cycling, a motor kicks in to provide relief. The bike also tracks whether individuals are using electrically stimulated arm muscles to power the cycle, or whether the motor is helping them with the motion.

“The Upper Extremity FES has many benefits, including relaxing muscle spasms and preventing muscle atrophy,” explains occupational therapist (OT) Sarah Miles who together with her OT colleague Manny Paiva assesses patients and helps them set goals for the FES program. "We believe we are the first program in Canada offering this therapy in a clinical setting," adds Manny.

Now four months into the Upper Extremity FES program, Harvey—who lives with his wife and two “ridiculous” cats—is excited about the small changes he’s noticing in his arm movement and strength. “It is these small, incremental victories like having a little more strength to reach a button in my van and close the door on the first try—instead of after multiple attempts—that are making me more independent.”

Dan Harvey and therapists from the FES program will be available to speak to media:

  •  Friday, December 4, 2015 at 11:15
  • Parkwood Institute’s Main Building Therapy Gym, 550 Wellington Rd., London
For more information and to arrange interviews:
Anne Kay, Communication and Public Affairs
Pager: 519-649-9238, phone: 519-646-6100, ext. 42470

About St. Joseph’s Health Care London

Renowned for compassionate care, St. Joseph’s Health Care London is a leading academic health care centre in Canada dedicated to helping people live to their fullest by minimizing the effects of injury, disease and disability through excellence in care, teaching and research. Through partnership with Lawson Health Research Institute and our collaborative engagement with other health care and academic partners, St. Joseph’s has become an international leader in the areas of: chronic disease management; medical imaging; specialized mental health care; rehabilitation and specialized geriatrics; and surgery. St. Joseph’s operates through a wide range of hospital, clinic and long-term and community-based settings, including: St. Joseph’s Hospital; Parkwood Institute; Mount Hope Centre for Long Term Care; and the Southwest Centre for Forensic Mental Health Care. For more information, visit

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