Researchers performing a study on surface electrical stimulation (SES) suggests that, if harnessed, it could possibly lead to improved treatment for phantom limb pain.

The study was published recently in the Journal of Rehabilitation Research and Development, according to the release.

“The goal of our research is to develop a noninvasive, home-based therapy for treating phantom limb pain,” says the study’s lead researcher Katharine H. Polasek, assistant professor of engineering at Hope College in Holland, Mich, in a media release from Dick Jones Communications.

Per the release, she and her team hope that SES could someday be harnessed to provide natural sensations in body areas distant from where the stimulation occurs. For example, they note, electrical stimulation on the skin surface at the elbow could produce feeling in the hand, including “natural” sensations.

The release explains that phantom limb pain refers to discomfort felt in a limb that has been amputated. This includes pain, tingling, cramping, heat and cold—virtually any sensation that an existing limb could have.

In their study, Polasek and a team of undergraduate researchers at Hope College conducted 46 testing sessions with 35 people to learn whether SES at their elbows could produce “referred sensation” in their hands without causing discomfort elsewhere. They also wanted to see whether it was possible to produce a “natural sensation” such as touch in the hand or the feeling of pressing and not simply a tingling or prickling perception, the release explains.

Electrodes were attached to subjects at either the sites of the ulnar or median nerves at the elbow position and electronic stimulation was applied under carefully controlled conditions. In every session, the participants felt sensation in their hands.

“The actual feeling varied from tingling to itchiness to pressing,” Polasek notes in the release. “Natural sensations were reported, but the vast majority of subjects experienced tingling or prickling sensations.”

She adds in the release that there is some indication that small modulation of the amplitude or width of the electronic pulses provides a more natural sensation. That will be explored in future experiments with the hope of increasing the occurrence of natural sensations.

[Source(s): Dick Jones Communications, Newswise]