An association between phantom limb sensations and stump skin conductance during transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) applied to the contralateral leg: a case study
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This report describes a placebo-controlled study of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) applied to the contralateral lower leg and outer ears of an amputee with non-painful phantom sensations. The subject received TENS or placebo stimulation on separate sessions in which baseline periods of no stimulation alternated with periods of TENS (or placebo). Throughout the two sessions, continuous measures of stump skin conductance, surface skin temperature and phantom intensity were obtained. The results showed that TENS applied to the contralateral leg was significantly more effective than a placebo in decreasing the intensity of phantom sensations, whereas stimulation of the outer ears led to a non-significant increase. The pattern of electrodermal activity on the TENS session was consistently linear during baseline periods, indicating a progressive increase in sympathetic sudomotor activity. In contrast, during periods of electrical stimulation the pattern of electrodermal activity was consistently curvilinear indicating an initial decrease followed by an increase in sudomotor responses. Changes in stump skin conductance correlated significantly with changes in phantom sensations both in TENS and placebo sessions suggesting a relationship between sympathetic activity at the stump and paresthesias referred to the phantom. Two hypotheses are presented to account for these findings.