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Functional electrical stimulation (FES) is a treatment technique where low-level electrical impulses are directed toward specific muscles in the head, neck, arms, hands, legs or other areas. The stimulation can cause muscles to contract, which promotes increased muscle control, range of motion, strength or use of muscles in the affected area.

Use in speech-language therapy

FES is used for treatment of people with dysphagia (problems with swallowing). Patients may receive treatment a few times a week for a duration depending on each individual’s needs. The trained speech-language pathologists utilize a specialized form of FES called VitalStim® therapy. VitalStim therapy is the only FDA-cleared neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) device for the treatment of dysphagia. Patients are sent for a swallowing test to gauge response to therapy and improvement.

While FES is an effective treatment for dysphagia, each case is different. There are patients who have gone from being on feeding tubes to eating food by mouth safely after receiving VitalStim therapy. However, some patients may not respond to the treatment and underlying conditions may impact improvement from the treatment.

VitalStim therapy is provided at:

Use in physical therapy

Examples of conditions treated with FES in a physical therapy setting include traumatic brain injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, brain tumors, incomplete spinal cord injury, and neurological conditions including cervical myelopathy.

Northwell Health utilizes Bioness devices for FES in physical therapy cases. The Bioness FES systems send low-level stimulation to the weak or paralyzed muscles, helping some people with impaired upper and lower extremities regain essential function and the freedom to live a more active life.

Treatments include foot drop treatment that stimulates the muscles in the affected leg to allow the patient to lift the foot while walking and hand treatment to help the patient open and close the hand, perform daily activities and re-educate the muscles.

FES can be a long-term or short-term treatment for patients. Depending on the condition, a patient may regain strength during sessions with the physical therapist. In some cases, it will be necessary to use a Bioness device for the rest of their lives. In these cases, the rehabilitation team at Northwell Health evaluates patients using the Bioness devices, and if a patient is a candidate for further treatment, the therapist will refer the patient to Bioness for further evaluation and for information on how to purchase the device. Northwell Health therapists train patients on how to use the device at home if they choose to purchase it.

Bioness therapy is provided at:

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