Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Biomedical Engineering


Biomedical and General Engineering


Trevor Cardinal, Ph.D.


Peripheral arterial occlusive disease (PAOD) affects 8 to 12 million Americans over the age of 50. As the disease progresses, arterial occlusions arising from atherosclerotic lesions inhibit normal metabolic vasodilation in the peripheries, resulting in limb ischemia and claudication. Pharmacological and surgical treatments currently used to treat both the hemodynamic and pain symptoms associated with PAOD can involve adverse and potentially life-threatening side effects. Thus, there is a need for additional innovative therapies for PAOD.

Neurostimulation has a known analgesic effect on both acute and chronic pain. Although the exact mechanisms remain under investigation, local vascular tone may be modulated by neurostimulation in addition to pain modulation. The Gate Control Theory proposes that electrical activation of mechanoreceptive afferent somatosensory nerves, specifically Aβ fibers, inhibits pain signaling to the brain by activating an inhibitory interneuron in the dorsal horn of the spinal cord which dampens signaling from afferent, C type peripheral nociceptor nerves. Interestingly, Aβ fiber activation may also inhibit norepinephrine release from sympathetic nerve terminals on efferent neurons by activating α-2 adrenergic receptors along the same dermatome, resulting in localized vasodilation in both limbs. Ultimately, electrical stimulation may decrease mean blood pressure and increase local blood flow.

The focus of this study was to optimize protocols and perform a small scale clinical study to investigate hemodynamic and analgesic responses to neurostimulation during acute ischemia. We hypothesized that ganglial transcutaneous electrical neurostimulation (TENS) and interferential current (IFC) treatments would decrease pain perception and vascular resistance in the periphery in young, healthy subjects. We further hypothesized that IFC may have a greater hyperemic and analgesic effect on acute ischemia than TENS as its current waveform may be more efficient at overcoming skin impedance. Interestingly, we found trends suggesting that TENS and IFC may increase vascular resistance (VR) and have no noticeable analgesic effect, though TENS may have a slightly lower increase in VR associated with an increase in pain. Further work characterizing the hemodynamic effects of different stimulus waveforms is needed to inform future research into possible neuromodulation therapies for ischemic disease.