VitalStim® Therapy

What is VitalStim Therapy?
VitalStim Therapy is a non-invasive therapy that uses an electrical current to stimulate the muscles responsible for swallowing. It is the only FDA-cleared device for treatment of dysphagia (swallowing difficulty). Children’s speech-language pathologists and occupational therapists have been providing VitalStim during feeding therapy since 2005.

Would my child benefit from VitalStim Therapy?
At Children’s, candidates for VitalStim Therapy are typically identified based on the results of a videofluoroscopic swallow study. 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.

What to bring to VitalStim Therapy
To ensure the best therapy experience, it is recommended that parents/caregivers bring the following items to feeding therapy sessions utilizing VitalStim:

  • A hungry child: It is very important that your child is hungry during therapy. Children who are hungry tend to be more willing to eat in a new environment and try new foods.
  • Special foods, formula and/or breast milk: We have a wide variety of foods and liquids to offer your child. However, if your child has food allergies or is taking formula or breast milk, we request that you bring these items from home.
  • Bottles: If your child is bottle-fed, please bring the bottle and nipple used for most feedings.

What to expect during feeding therapy-utilizing VitalStim:
Sessions are typically 60 minutes in length and are scheduled 1-5 times per week depending on your child’s needs. Generally, feeding therapy with VitalStim requires a higher frequency, such as 3-5x/week to be effective. Attendance will be very important to ensure your child is receiving maximum benefit from the program.

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. Initially, 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 videofluoroscopic swallow studies are used to track your child’s progress.

At Children’s, we believe that it is very important for families to be involved in all aspects of their child’s care. Depending on the child’s needs, parents are encouraged to view the sessions via monitors, observation mirrors, or in the therapy room. In addition, your child’s therapist will discuss progress, provide ideas for home practice, and demonstrate beneficial feeding therapy techniques to ensure maximum benefit is received from therapy and carried over into the home.

Find additional information on VitalStim Therapy, aspiration and videofluoroscopic swallow studies: