Neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) is a specialized form of electrical stimulation therapy designed to treat dysphagia. Dysphagia is a term that means “difficulty swallowing.” It is the inability of food or liquids to pass easily from the mouth, into the throat, and down into the esophagus to the stomach during the process of swallowing.
Neuromuscular electrical stimulation therapy improves the strength, coordination, endurance, sensory feedback, and timing in the muscles involved in eating, drinking, and swallowing. While the electrical stimulation is being delivered, a certified therapist helps patients train their muscles with special exercises.
Over time, the child’s muscles are trained how to properly swallow food and drink. The main goal of electrical stimulation therapy is to strengthen weak muscles and to help children gain control of their oral motor skills.
In a typical treatment session, stimulation remains on for the duration of the session or as the patient tolerates the stimulation. NMES uses a low-level electric current to activate muscles used for feeding and swallowing. NMES is noninvasive: they place electrodes on the skin of the neck and/or face, over the muscles used for chewing and swallowing. The therapists use NMES, along with traditional treatments, to improve a child’s swallowing and feeding skills.
Before treatment, your therapist may require a videofluoroscopy swallow study to check your child’s swallowing skills and determine the type and severity of the dysphagia. They will use the study’s results to determine your child’s goals and the frequency of NMES treatment.