Our highly trained team uses electrical stimulation to treat children anywhere on the health continuum, from those in the ICU who cannot get out of bed to those who are relearning how to walk. Our experienced physical and occupational therapists can treat muscles all over the body – and even treat multiple muscles at the same time.
We have extensive experience helping children with a wide range of health conditions. With our expertise, we can give your child the best opportunity to get stronger and lead a fuller, more active life.
What is Electrical Stimulation?
Electrical stimulation sends mild electrical pulses to your child’s muscles to help activate them after serious illness or injury has left them immobile for a period of time. At Children's Health℠, we use electrical stimulation with other therapeutic techniques to help your child build various motor skills.
Electrical stimulation works best when paired with training for functional activities, such as:
- Grasping things
- Bringing utensils to their mouth
- Moving from sitting to standing
Children may need electrical stimulation after a neurological injury such as a brain injury, spinal cord injury, nerve injury or stroke. This treatment helps restore the connection between the body and the brain so that your child can relearn certain movements.
Sometimes, children who have had a cast for a long time or experienced muscle atrophy during a long illness need help regaining their strength. Electrical stimulation helps these children, too.
What are the benefits of Electrical Stimulation?
When a child participates regularly in an electrical stimulation program, it may help speed recovery of the muscles that are being treated. Electrical stimulation can help:
- Build muscle strength and endurance
- Manage and minimize pain
- Improve blood circulation
Electrical stimulation is a treatment that your therapist can train you to continue at home, too, which supports your child’s continued recovery.
What are the side effects of Electrical Stimulation?
Rarely, children experience skin irritation from electrical stimulation. This side effect usually goes away about 30 to 60 minutes after treatment. Although very rare, burns can happen if the electrons are worn out or don’t adhere well to your child’s skin.
Some children struggle with the “pins-and-needles” feeling that electrical stimulation can cause. They usually get used to the sensation as they continue receiving the treatment. If your child has trouble with this feeling, we have other treatment options to help encourage muscle movement, such as taping and vibration.
What are the risks of Electrical Stimulation?
Electrical stimulation is low risk, but it may not be right for everyone. Children with the following medical needs may not be able to have electrical stimulation:
- Cancerous tumors
- Pacemakers and other medical devices
- Active blood clots
It’s important for you to watch your child for signs of pain and frequently check their skin, if your child:
- Has impaired sensation or
- Does not have the ability to tell someone if the treatment is painful
What to expect with Electrical Stimulation
Your child will likely need electrical stimulation about three to five times each week for 30-minute sessions. Here’s what to expect at each treatment session:
What to expect before Electrical Stimulation
Our experts place electrodes on your child’s body, targeting the muscles that need help. The electrodes are small pads with a sticky gel surface that attaches to your child’s skin.
What to expect during Electrical Stimulation
Depending on which type of electrical stimulation your child is receiving, they will either lie down, sit up or stand during treatment. Our tools allow us to target up to six muscles at a time. The treatment helps simulate the pattern of muscle activity for movements such as walking, eating, drinking and grasping objects.
The therapist starts the electrical stimulation at a low intensity to get your child used to the feeling. Then, the therapist increases the intensity until the muscles respond by contracting. Once the treatment reaches the target intensity, the therapist may engage your child in an activity or movement that uses the targeted muscle or muscles.
You can be with your child during this entire process.
What to expect after Electrical Stimulation
Your child might have some mild skin irritation. This side effect is rare and usually goes away on its own in less than an hour. They may also be tired from their therapy session, because the sessions require a lot of activity.
How do I prepare my child for Electrical Stimulation?
The electrical stimulation results in a pins and needles sensation that your child will feel under the electrodes, and some children find it uncomfortable. You can help your child prepare by explaining how the treatment will feel. Staying with them while they receive the treatment can also help soothe them.
Your child’s therapist will never do more than your child can handle. Be sure to talk with the therapist about what’s best for your child before and after each session.
What questions should I ask my provider about Electrical Stimulation?
Questions you might ask your provider include:
- How often will my child need electrical stimulation?
- Are there any medications my child should stop taking before electrical stimulation?
- Will my child go home with any special equipment after electrical stimulation?
Frequently Asked Questions
What other treatment options might be right for my child if they cannot tolerate electrical stimulation?
Our therapists have extensive experience with a variety of therapeutic options for every child, and electrical stimulation is never the only treatment your child will receive in therapy. We often use electrical stimulation along with traditional exercise and functional training.
We also offer vibration and taping to help encourage muscle activation. The sensation of vibration might feel funny, but it’s not as intense as electrical stimulation.
Taping also helps us target muscles to encourage them to activate on their own. Removing the tape can be a little uncomfortable, but the therapist can use adhesive remover to make this process more comfortable for your child.
- Functional Electrical Stimulation, Cerebral Palsy Guidance
- Family Resources in Pediatric Physical Therapy, Academy of Pediatric Physical Therapy