“Westside’s therapists treat my daughter as if she was their own. It is heartwarming and reassuring that my daughter is getting the best care. It is amazing how far my daughter has come to meet milestones, and I have to thank Westside for getting her there.”
– The Mezydlow Family

What is VitalStim?

VitalStim, also known as neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES), is used to treat both the pediatric and adult population with dysphagia/swallowing disorders. A uniquely certified speech-language pathologist administers NMES in conjunction with oral motor, swallowing, and feeding therapeutic activities in order to improve the swallow function. It is a non-invasive, external electrical stimulation therapy approved 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 overlying the musculature. Once electrodes are placed and current has been increased to the appropriate 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.

 VitalStim Therapy Sessions

  • To be most effective, therapy is recommended a minimum of 2X times a week at a duration of 1 hour; however, research has shown improvement for 1X per week with swallowing exercises to be conducted within the home environment.
  • Parents/caregivers are encouraged to be involved in therapy for the child to get the most out of the sessions.
  • Each session begins by placing electrodes on a child’s neck, and sometimes their cheeks. The child may feel a slight  “pins and needles” sensation. As the input is increased, the sensation feels more like “tugging and pulling.” Most children tolerate the therapy with little difficulty. Every attempt is made to make the child as comfortable as possible.
  • To determine the most effective placement of electrodes for therapy, initial evaluation can include a modified barium swallow (MBS) study. This assesses a patient’s oral-pharyngeal stage of the swallow and determines where the breakdown in the swallow occurs (however, therapy can be initiated without one). 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.
  • A swallow evaluation conducted with the therapist will be performed as well to determine what oral motor, feeding, and swallowing techniques should be implemented in conjunction with VitalStim therapy.

In VitalStim therapy, we never forget that a kid is a kid by ensuring therapy is fun, safe, and inviting. Our expectation: life-changing results.

Children Who May Benefit

  • Children of all ages may benefit, especially:
    • A child who has oral/pharyngeal dysphagia
    • A child who may be tube-dependent for all nutrition
    • A child who has experienced:
      • 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
      • Various Chromosomal Disorders

Possible Signs of Swallowing/Feeding Disorder

  • Spitting out food
  • Refusing to eat
  • Eating very little for a prolonged period of time
  • Frequent coughing or throat clearing during or soon after eating
  • Excessive drooling
  • Food leaking from mouth
  • Refusing to eat certain textures or temperatures of food
  • A “wet” or “gurgly” sounding voice or cry after eating
  • Excessive spitting up or vomiting after eating

Feeding Developmental Milestones

How old is your child (in months)?


Milestones

  • Nipple feeding by breast or bottle
  • Hand to mouth movements begin
  • Semi-reclined posture during feeding

Milestones

  • Interacts with caregiver during feeding through gaze

Milestones

  • Begins to put hands on bottle during feeding

Milestones

  • Spoon feeding introduced (4-6 months)
  • Cup drinking introduced Holds bottle with both hands

Milestones

  • More upright posture during feeding
  • Increases lip closure around spoon
  • Accepts spoon feeding of pureed food
  • Begins to finger feed solids
  • Vertical chewing pattern (munching) begins
  • Able to suck liquids from cup Helps caregiver with spoon


Milestones

  • Drinks from cup held by caregiver
  • Progresses to thicker, more textured food Increased finger feeding of easily dissolvable foods
  • Chewing matures to more rotary jaw action
  • Deliberately reaches for spoon


Milestones

  • Grasps spoon with both hands for self feeding
  • Holds cup with both hands
  • Able to hold and tip bottle independently


Milestones

  • Primarily self-feeding
  • Able to chew a wide range of textures
  • Oral movements are more precise

Milestones

  • Holds cup with one hand
  • Drinks from open cup without spilling
  • Uses fingers to put food on spoon
  • Uses fork Almost completely self-feeds
  • Eats a wide range of solid foods

Benefits

  • Improved Swallow Functioning
  • Increased Muscle Strength 
  • Accelerated Cortical Organization
  • Increased Effectiveness in Swallowing Therapy Exercises
  • Improve facial symmetry
  • Improve oral motor skills

Why Westside is the Preferred Provider

Strong Clinical Leadership

Westside’s Clinical Directors train and supervise therapists to ensure quality.

Distinct, Family-Centered Approach

Our therapists have warm personalities that foster strong relationships with families.

Facilities That Kids Dreams Of

Ziplines, jumping ledges, ball pits, trampolines, and rock walls make kids forget they’re in therapy.

Multiple Disciplines And Perspectives

6 disciplines in each clinic enable collaboration across specialists to meet your child’s needs.

Clinics Designed for Quality Therapy

Private rooms for quiet sessions, feeding therapy rooms, and open gyms for socialization

Impressively Talented Therapists

Competitive hiring process and high-performance standards – you’ll find only warm, friendly, and talented therapists.

Getting Started With VitalStim Therapy

If you are interested in VitalStim Therapy,  submit an inquiry using the button below. Our Patient Coordinator will call within 1-2 business days to help you determine a plan that works best for you.  If you are still unsure, you can:

  • Submit a request for our Patient Coordinator to talk to you about a free, 30-minute screening
  • View our developmental checklist
  • Ask a question using the “Leave a Message” feature in the bottom-right corner of your screen
  • Call us anytime at (815) 469-1500 for more information