specialty programs

Vital Stim

What is VitalStim Therapy?

VitalStim, also known as a type of neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES), is used to treat both the pediatric and adult population with dysphagia/swallowing disorders. A specially certified speech-language pathologist administers NMES in conjunction with oral motor, swallowing, and feeding therapeutic activities in order to improve swallow function. It is a non-invasive, external electrical stimulation therapy cleared to market by the Food and Drug Administration.

How does VitalStim work?

Neuromuscular electrical stimulation involves the administration of small, electrical impulses to the swallowing muscles in the throat through electrodes attached to the skin overlaying the musculature. Once the electrodes are placed and current intensity has been increased to a satisfactory level, the therapist begins traditional oral motor, feeding, and swallowing exercises with the patient.  The patient exercises the swallowing muscles for periods of up to one hour while receiving concurrent VitalStim therapy.

What does VitalStim therapy include:

  • To be most effective, therapy is recommended a minimum of 3-5 times a week at a duration of 1 hour.
  • Parents/caregivers are encouraged to be actively involved in therapy for the child to get most benefit.
  • Each VitalStim feeding therapy session begins by putting electrodes (small stickers with wires connected to the VitalStim device) on the front of your child's neck, and sometimes on the cheeks. In the beginning, your child may feel a slight stinging or "pins and needles" sensation. As the input is increased, the sensation will feel more like "tugging and pulling." Most children are able to tolerate the therapy with little difficulty and every attempt will be made to make your child as comfortable as possible. It is important that your child is hungry during VitalStim sessions because they will be encouraged to eat/swallow as much as possible. Clinical observations as well as follow-up modified barium swallow studies are used to track your child's progress with swallowing skills.
  • For most effective placement of electrodes for therapy, the “gold standard” for an initial evaluation would be a modified barium swallow (MBS) study to assess patient’s oral-pharyngeal stage of the swallow and determine where the breakdown in the swallow occurs. The swallow study will determine if your child is aspirating (small amount of food or liquid enters the airway during swallowing) or having other swallowing difficulties that may be improved by the use of VitalStim during feeding therapy. 
  • Following a modified barium swallow study, a bedside swallow evaluation is recommended as well to determine what oral motor, feeding, and swallowing techniques should be implemented in conjunction with VitalStim therapy.

  • Improve swallow function
  • Increase muscle strength
  • Accelerate cortical organization
  • Increase the effectiveness of swallowing exercise therapy

Children Who May Benefit from VitalStim:

  • Children of all ages
  • A child who has oral/pharyngeal dysphagia
  • A child who may be tube-dependent for all nutrition
  • Children with stroke, traumatic brain injury (TBI), laryngomalacia, spinal muscular atrophy, cerebral palsy, cleft lip and palate, Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, failure to thrive, Bell’s palsy, and more.

“Juli's assertive approach to challenge Ty, born with Spina Bifida L5/S1, puts him on a path to mobility and independence, giving us hope for Ty's future.  She is an integral component to Team Titus.  I love medical professionals like Juli who truly care and love the work they do.” 

Angelica H.