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The Extraction Of Neural Strategies From The Surface EMG

Dario Farina, Roberto Merletti, Roger M. Enoka

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This brief review examines some of the methods used to infer central control strategies from surface electromyogram (EMG) recordings. Among the many uses of the surface EMG in studying the neural control of movement, the review critically evaluates only some of the applications. The focus is on the relations between global features of the surface EMG and the underlying physiological processes. Because direct measurements of motor unit activation are not available and many factors can influence the signal, these relations are frequently misinterpreted. These errors are compounded by the counterintuitive effects that some system parameters can have on the EMG signal. The phenomenon of crosstalk is used as an example of these problems. The review describes the limitations of techniques used to infer the level of muscle activation, the type of motor unit recruited, the upper limit of motor unit recruitment, the average discharge rate, and the degree of synchronization between motor units. Although the global surface EMG is a useful measure of muscle activation and assessment, there are limits to the information that can be extracted from this signal.