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Motor-Unit Synchronization Increases EMG Amplitude And Decreases Force Steadiness Of Simulated Contractions

Wanxiang Yao, Rew J. Fuglevand, Roger M. Enoka

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The purpose of the study was to determine the effect of motor-unit synchronization on the surface electromyogram (EMG) and isometric force using a computer model of muscle contraction. The EMG and force were simulated by generating muscle fiber action potentials, defining motor-unit mechanical characteristics and territories, estimating motor-unit action potentials, specifying motor-unit discharge times, and imposing various levels of motor-unit synchronization. The output (EMG and force) was simulated at 11 levels of excitation, ranging from 5 to 100% of maximum. To synchronize motor-unit activity, selected motor-unit discharge times were adjusted; however, the number of motor units recruited and the average discharge rate of each unit was constant across synchronization conditions for a given level of excitation. Two levels of synchronization were imposed on the discharge times: a moderate and a high level, which approximated the experimentally observed range of motor-unit synchronization. The moderate level of synchrony caused the average EMG to increase by ∼65%, whereas the high level caused a 130% increase in the EMG with respect to the no-synchrony condition. Neither synchrony condition influenced the magnitude of the average force. However, motor-unit synchronization did increase the amplitude of the fluctuations in the simulated force, especially at intermediate levels of excitation. In conclusion, motor-unit synchronization increased the amplitude of the average rectified EMG and decreased the steadiness of the force exerted by the muscle in simulated contractions.