Surface Stimulation as a Potential Treatment for Phantom Limb Pain

Student Author(s)

Brooke Draggoo
Payton Hoff

Faculty Mentor(s)

Dr. Katherine Polasek

Document Type


Event Date



Phantom limb pain, a pain or discomfort in the missing limb, is experienced by a majority of amputees. Our work is based on the hypothesis that by eliciting a “real” sensation in the phantom limb, via surface electrical stimulation, pain may be decreased or even eliminated. Previously, we have shown that a variety of sensations can be obtained from stimulation on the surface of the skin. The goal of this study was to quantify the authenticity of the stimulated sensations using the rubber hand illusion. The median and ulnar nerves were stimulated with the goal of creating a realistic tapping sensation in the subject’s hand. The rubber hand illusion was then used to quantify the authenticity of the stimulated sensation. A total of five rubber hand illusion trials were performed on each subject: three traditional trials done by a human investigator tapping on both the real hand and the rubber hand, and two artificial trials using surface electrical stimulation to evoke a tapping sensation in the real hand while the robot tapped on the rubber hand. Data collected included: questionnaire results, proprioceptive drift, and temperature changes of the arm. The results of these measures were compared to determine if a significant difference was present between the traditional and artificial methods. The trials are still ongoing, but current analysis shows that the traditional method produced a more realistic illusion than the artificial method; however the artificial method produced a better illusion than the control. These results demonstrate the potential for using this combination of surface electrical stimulation and simultaneous visual feedback as a future therapy for phantom limb pain.


This research was supported in part by an award to Hope College from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute through the Undergraduate Science Education Program.

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