High-density surface electromyography provides reliable estimates of motor unit behavior

Eduardo Martinez Valdes, C. M. Laine, Deborah Falla, Frank Mayer, Dario Farina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


OBJECTIVE: To assess the intra- and inter-session reliability of estimates of motor unit behavior and muscle fiber properties derived from high-density surface electromyography (HDEMG).

METHODS: Ten healthy subjects performed submaximal isometric knee extensions during three recording sessions (separate days) at 10%, 30%, 50% and 70% of their maximum voluntary effort. The discharge timings of motor units of the vastus lateralis and medialis muscles were automatically identified from HDEMG by a decomposition algorithm. We characterized the number of detected motor units, their discharge rates, the coefficient of variation of their inter-spike intervals (CoVisi), the action potential conduction velocity and peak-to-peak amplitude. Reliability was assessed for each motor unit characteristics by intra-class correlation coefficient (ICC). Additionally, a pulse-to-noise ratio (PNR) was calculated, to verify the accuracy of the decomposition.

RESULTS: Good to excellent reliability within and between sessions was found for all motor unit characteristics at all force levels (ICCs>0.8), with the exception of CoVisi that presented poor reliability (ICC<0.6). PNR was high and similar for both muscles with values ranging between 45.1 and 47.6dB (accuracy>95%).

CONCLUSION: Motor unit features can be assessed non-invasively and reliably within and across sessions over a wide range of force levels.

SIGNIFICANCE: These results suggest that it is possible to characterize motor units in longitudinal intervention studies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2534-2541
Number of pages8
JournalClinical Neurophysiology
Issue number6
Early online date23 Dec 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2016


  • High-density surface EMG
  • Motor unit decomposition
  • Conduction velocity
  • Motor unit discharge rate
  • Vastus lateralis
  • Vastus medialis


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