The impact of walking on the perception of multichannel electrotactile stimulation in individuals with lower-limb amputation and able-bodied participants

Romain Valette, Jose Gonzalez-Vargas, Strahinja Dosen*


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Background: One of the drawbacks of lower-limb prostheses is that they do not provide explicit somatosensory feedback to their users. Electrotactile stimulation is an attractive technology to restore such feedback because it enables compact solutions with multiple stimulation points. This allows stimulating a larger skin area to provide more information concurrently and modulate parameters spatially as well as in amplitude. However, for effective use, electrotactile stimulation needs to be calibrated and it would be convenient to perform this procedure while the subject is seated. However, amplitude and spatial perception can be affected by motion and/or physical coupling between the residual limb and the socket. In the present study, we therefore evaluated and compared the psychometric properties of multichannel electrotactile stimulation applied to the thigh/residual limb during sitting versus walking. Methods: The comprehensive assessment included the measurement of the sensation and discomfort thresholds (ST & DT), just noticeable difference (JND), number of distinct intervals (NDI), two-point discrimination threshold (2PD), and spatial discrimination performance (SD). The experiment involved 11 able-bodied participants (4 females and 7 males; 29.2 ± 3.8 years), 3 participants with transtibial amputation, and 3 participants with transfemoral amputation. Results: In able-bodied participants, the results were consistent for all the measured parameters, and they indicated that both amplitude and spatial perception became worse during walking. More specifically, ST and DT increased significantly during walking vs. sitting (2.90 ± 0.82 mA vs. 2.00 ± 0.52 mA; p < 0.001 for ST and 7.74 ± 0.84 mA vs. 7.21 ± 1.30 mA; p < 0.05 for DT) and likewise for the JND (22.47 ± 12.21% vs. 11.82 ± 5.07%; p < 0.01), while the NDI became lower (6.46 ± 3.47 vs. 11.27 ± 5.18 intervals; p < 0.01). Regarding spatial perception, 2PD was higher during walking (69.78 ± 17.66 mm vs. 57.85 ± 14.87 mm; p < 0.001), while the performance of SD was significantly lower (56.70 ± 10.02% vs. 64.55 ± 9.44%; p < 0.01). For participants with lower-limb amputation, the ST, DT, and performance in the SD assessment followed the trends observed in the able-bodied population. The results for 2PD and JND were however different and subject-specific. Conclusion: The conducted evaluation demonstrates that electrotactile feedback should be calibrated in the conditions in which it will be used (e.g., during walking). The calibration during sitting, while more convenient, might lead to an overly optimistic (or in some cases pessimistic) estimate of sensitivity. In addition, the results underline that calibration is particularly important in people affected by lower-limb loss to capture the substantial variability in the conditions of the residual limb and prosthesis setup. These insights are important for the implementation of artificial sensory feedback in lower-limb prosthetics applications.

TidsskriftJournal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
Udgave nummer1
StatusUdgivet - 17 aug. 2023

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© 2023. BioMed Central Ltd., part of Springer Nature.


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