Somatotopical feedback versus non-somatotopical feedback for phantom digit sensation on amputees using electrotactile stimulation

Dingguo Zhang, Heng Xu, Peter B. Shull, Jianrong Liu, Xiangyang Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Citations (SciVal)


Abstract Background: Transcutaneous electrical stimulation can provide amputees with tactile feedback for better manipulating an advanced prosthesis. In general, there are two ways to transfer the stimulus to the skin: somatotopical feedback (SF) that stimulates the phantom digit somatotopy on the stump and non-somatotopical feedback (NF) that stimulates other positions on the human body. Methods: To investigate the difference between SF and NF, electrotactile experiments were conducted on seven amputees. Electrical stimulation was applied via a complete phantom map to the residual limb (SF) and to the upper arm (NF) separately. The behavior results of discrimination accuracy and response time were used to examine: 1) performance differences between SF and NF for discriminating position, type and strength of tactile feedback; 2) performance differences between SF and NF for one channel (1C), three channels (3C), and five channels (5C). NASA-TLX standardized testing was used to determine differences in mental workload between SF and NF. Results: The grand-averaged discrimination accuracy for SF was 6% higher than NF, and the average response time for SF was 600 ms faster than NF. SF is better than NF for position, type, strength, and the overall modality regarding both accuracy and response time except for 1C modality (p<0.001). Among the six modalities of stimulation channels, performance of 1C/SF was the best, which was similar to that of 1C/NF and 3C/SF; performance of 3C/NF was similar to that of 5C/SF; performance of 5C/NF was the worst. NASA-TLX scores indicated that mental workload increased as the number of stimulation channels increased. Conclusions: We quantified the difference between SF and NF, and the influence of different number of stimulation channels. SF was better than NF in general, but the practical issues such as the limited area of stumps could constrain the use of SF. We found that more channels increased the amount and richness of information to the amputee while fewer channels resulted in higher performance, and thus the 3C/SF modality was a good compromise. Based on this study, we provide possible solutions to the practical problems involving the implementation of tactile feedback for amputees. These results are expected to promote the application of SF and NF tactile feedback for amputees in the future.

Original languageEnglish
Article number344
JournalJournal of NeuroEngineering and Rehabilitation
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 May 2015


  • Amputees
  • Electrotactile stimulation
  • Non-Somatotopical feedback
  • Phantom digit somatotopy
  • Somatotopical feedback

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Rehabilitation
  • Health Informatics


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