Evoked haptic sensations in the hand via non-invasive proximal nerve stimulation

J Neural Eng. 2018 Aug;15(4):046005. doi: 10.1088/1741-2552/aabd5d. Epub 2018 Apr 11.


Objective: Haptic perception of a prosthetic limb or hand is a crucial, but often unmet, need which impacts the utility of the prostheses. In this study, we seek to evaluate the feasibility of a non-invasive transcutaneous nerve stimulation method in generating haptic feedback in a transradial amputee subject as well as intact able-bodied subjects.

Approach: An electrode grid was placed on the skin along the medial side of the upper arm beneath the short head of the biceps brachii, in proximity to the median and ulnar nerves. Varying stimulation patterns were delivered to different electrode pairs, in order to emulate different types of sensations (Single Tap, Press-and-Hold, Double Tap) at different regions of the hand. Subjects then reported the magnitude of sensation by pressing on a force transducer to transform the qualitative haptic perception into a quantitative measurement.

Main results: Altering current stimulations through electrode pairs on the grid resulted in repeatable alterations in the percept regions of the hand. Most subjects reported spatial coverage of individual fingers or phalanges, which can resemble the whole hand through different pairs of stimulation electrodes. The different stimulation patterns were also differentiable by all subjects. The amputee subject also reported haptic sensations similar to the able-bodied subjects.

Significance: Our findings demonstrated the capabilities of our transcutaneous stimulation method. Subjects were able to perceive spatially distinct sensations with graded magnitudes that emulated tapping and holding sensation in their hands. The elicitation of haptic sensations in the phantom hand of an amputee is a significant step in the development of our stimulation method, and provides insight into the future adaptation and implementation of prostheses with non-invasive sensory feedback to the users.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Amputees* / rehabilitation
  • Female
  • Hand / innervation*
  • Hand / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Touch Perception / physiology*
  • Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation / methods*
  • Young Adult