Does therapeutic electrical stimulation improve function in children with disabilities? A comprehensive literature review

Glendaliz Bosques, Rebecca Martin, Leah McGee, Cristina Lavinia Sadowsky

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article


The use of therapeutic electrical stimulation for medical purposes is not new; it has been described in medical textbooks since the 18th century, but its use has been limited due to concerns for tolerance and lack of research showing efficacy. The purpose of this review is to discuss the potential clinical applicability, while clarifying the differences in electrical stimulation (ES) treatments and the theory behind potential benefits to remediate functional impairments in youth. The literature review was performed as follows: A total of 37 articles were reviewed and the evidence for use in pediatric diagnoses is reported. The synthesis of the literature suggests that improvements in various impairments may be possible with the integration of ES. Most studies were completed on children with cerebral palsy (CP). Electrical stimulation may improve muscle mass and strength, spasticity, passive range of motion (PROM), upper extremity function, walking speed, and positioning of the foot and ankle kinematics during walking. Sitting posture and static/dynamic sitting balance may be improved with ES to trunk musculature. Bone mineral density may be positively affected with the use of Functional Electrical Stimulation (FES) ergometry. ES may also be useful in the management of urinary tract dysfunction and chronic constipation. Among all reviewed studies, reports of direct adverse reactions to electrical stimulation were rare. In conclusion, NMES and FES appear to be safe and well tolerated in children with various disabilities. It is suggested that physiatrists and other healthcare providers better understand the indications and parameters in order to utilize these tools effectively in the pediatric population. MeSH terms: Electrical stimulation; child; review.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)83-99
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 31 2016


  • cerebral palsy
  • disability
  • paraplegia
  • quadriplegia
  • Spasticity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health

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