Non-Invasive Sensory Input Results in Changes in Non-Painful and Painful Sensations in Two Upper-Limb Amputees

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Designs of active prostheses attempt to compensate for various functional losses following amputation. Integration of sensory feedback with the functional control re-enables sensory interaction with the environment through the prosthetic. Besides the functional and sensory loss, amputation induces anatomical and physiological changes of the sensory neural pathways, both peripherally and centrally, which can lead to phantom limb pain (PLP). Additionally, referred sensation areas (RSAs) likely originating from peripheral nerve sprouting, regeneration, and sensory reinnervation may develop. RSAs might provide a non-invasive access point to sensory neural pathways that project to the lost limb. This paper aims to report on the sensory input features, elicited using non-invasive electrical stimulation of RSAs that over time alleviated PLP in two upper-limb amputees. The distinct features of RSAs and sensation evoked using mechanical and electrical stimuli were characterized for the two participants over a period of 7 and 9 weeks, respectively. Both participants received transradial and transhumeral amputation following traumatic injuries. In one participant, a relatively low but stable number of RSAs provided a large variety of types of evoked phantom hand (PH) sensations. These included non-painful touch, vibration, tingling, stabbing, pressure, warmth/cold as well as the perception of various positions and movements of the phantom hand upon stimulation. Discomforting and painful sensations were induced with both mechanical and electrical stimuli. The other participant had a relatively large number of RSAs which varied over time. Stimulation of the RSAs provided mostly non-painful sensations of touch in the phantom hand. Temporary PLP alleviation and a change in the perception of the phantom hand from a tight to a more open fist were reported by both participants. The specificity of RSAs, dynamics in perception of the sensory input, and the associated alleviation of PLP could be effectively exploited by designs of future active prostheses. As such, techniques for the modulation of the sensory input associated with paradigms from interaction with the environment may add another dimension of protheses towards integrating personalized therapy for PLP.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


  • design of prostheses
  • referred sensation areas
  • phantom limb pain


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