Electrical stimulation could relieve dysphagia in children with cerebral palsy

Research published in Acta Neurologica Belgica has found that electrical stimulation may assist children with cerebral palsy (CP) who suffer from difficulty swallowing.

Also known as dysphagia, difficulty swallowing is a common symptom among children with CP. At present, treatments for this symptom involve strengthening the muscles in the throat and mouth – the oropharyngeal muscles – through exercise. Dietary changes can also be implemented to alleviate dysphagia.

Currently, the oropharyngeal muscles are exercised in a number of different ways using thermal, tactile or pressure techniques. Research has found these techniques to be imprecise, however.

The published study was carried out by researchers from the University of Health Sciences in Ankara, Turkey who used sensory-level electrical stimulation to find ways of improving the strength of oropharyngeal muscles.

This was done by administering electrical stimulation to the muscles used to chew – the bilateral masseter muscles – via two surface electrode pads. The electrical stimulation was applied over four weeks – 30 minutes a day, five days a week.

102 children with CP between the ages of two and six took part in the randomised clinical trial. The children were split into groups of those that received conventional dysphagia treatment and those that received the electrical stimulation treatment combined with conventional dysphagia treatment.

The group of children that received the combined methods of treatment saw a significant improvement in their ability to swallow.

A researcher working on the project has said: “Our results showed that the sensory-level electrical stimulation combined with traditional dysphagia rehabilitation methods achieved significantly more improvement in swallowing functions such as drooling, tongue movements, chewing, the ability to eat large food, feeding duration, dysphagia symptom severity and dysphagia level compared to those participants who did not receive electrical stimulation.”

Examining the long-term side effects of sensory-level electrical stimulation will be the next step for those researching the treatment.