How the VitalStim® Therapy System Works

The VitalStim® Therapy System involves the administration of small, electrical impulses to the swallowing muscles in the throat through electrodes attached to the skin overlaying the musculature.  The therapist determines which musculature would benefit from this facilitation through a patient evaluation.  Once the electrodes are placed and current intensity has been increased to a satisfactory level, the therapist commences traditional exercise therapy with the patient.  The patient exercises the swallowing muscles for periods of up to one hour while receiving concurrent VitalStim.  The VitalStim® Therapy System when applied in this manner, increases muscle strength, accelerates cortical reorganization, and increases the effectiveness of the exercise therapy.

A small, carefully calibrated current is delivered by electrodes designed specifically for this purpose.  The current stimulates motor nerves in the throat. The muscles responsible for swallowing then contract.  The quality of the swallowing function improves. With repeated therapy, muscles are re-educated.

NMES is routinely used to help restore muscle function in other parts of the body. But traditional NMES treatments and electrodes are contraindicated for use on the muscles necessary for pharyngeal contraction. The specific concerns: that stimulating the laryngeal afferents could trigger laryngospasm, and that placing electrodes too close to the carotid artery could cause sinus bradycardia.  But the VitalStim® Therapy System is not a traditional NMES treatment.  The VitalStim® Therapy System equipment and electrodes were specifically developed for the treatment of dysphagia and are not used in other NMES treatments. 

The VitalStim® Therapy System should not be used directly over an active neoplasm or infection. It should be used with caution in patients with seizure disorders and patients with implanted electronics (e.g., pacemakers, implantable defibrillators, deep brain stimulators). Some patients may not respond well to VitalStim. This may include patients with significant lower motor neuron damage and patients with severely impaired cognition. A certified VitalStim clinician can give you more information about candidacy for this treatment.

The VitalStim® Therapy System must be prescribed by a physician and can only be administered by a VitalStim-certified therapist.