Evoking haptic sensations in the foot through high-density transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulations

Lizhi Pan, Luis Vargas, Luis Vargas, Aaron Fleming, Aaron Fleming, Xiaogang Hu, Xiaogang Hu, Yong Zhu, H. Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Objective. Evoking haptic sensation on upper limb amputees via peripheral nerve stimulation has been investigated intensively in the past decade, but related studies involving lower limb amputees are limited. This study aimed to evaluate the feasibility of using non-invasive transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation to evoke haptic sensation along the phantom limb of the amputated foot of transtibial amputees. Approach. A high-density electrode grid (4 × 4) was placed over the skin surface above the distal branching of the sciatic, tibial, and common peroneal nerves. We hypothesized that electrical stimulation delivered to distinct electrode pairs created unique electric fields, which can activate selective sets of sensory axons innervating different skin regions of the foot. Five transtibial amputee subjects (three unilateral and two bilateral) and one able-bodied subject were tested by scanning all possible electrode pair combinations. Main results. All subjects reported various haptic percepts at distinct regions along the foot with each corresponding to specific electrode pairs. These results demonstrated the capability of our non-invasive nerve stimulation method to evoke haptic sensations in the foot of transtibial amputees and the able-bodied subject. Significance. The outcomes contribute important knowledge and evidence regarding missing tactile sensation in the foot of lower limb amputees and might also facilitate future development of strategies to manage phantom pain and enhance embodiment of prosthetic legs in the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number036020
JournalJournal of neural engineering
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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