Purpose: To systematically review the literature examining the effects of neuromuscular electrical stimulation (NMES) on swallowing and neural activation. The review was conducted as part of a series examining the effects of oral motor exercises (OMEs) on speech, swallowing, and neural activation. Method: A systematic search was conducted to identify relevant studies published in peer-reviewed journals from 1960 to 2007. All studies meeting the exclusion/inclusion criteria were appraised for quality and categorized as efficacy or exploratory research based on predetermined criteria. Results: Out of 899 citations initially identified for the broad review of OMEs, 14 articles relating to NMES qualified for inclusion. Most of the studies (10/14) were considered exploratory research, and many had significant methodological limitations. Conclusions: This systematic review reveals that surface NMES to the neck has been most extensively studied with promising findings, yet high-quality controlled trials are needed to provide evidence of efficacy. Surface NMES to the palate, faucial pillars, and pharynx has been explored in Phase I research, but no evidence of efficacy is currently available. Intramuscular NMES has been investigated in a single Phase I exploratory study. Additional research is needed to document the effects of such protocols on swallowing performance.
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