Uneven spatial distribution of surface EMG: what does it mean?

Alessio Gallina, Roberto Merletti, Marco Gazzoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


The aim of this work is to show how changes in surface electromyographic activity (sEMG) during a repetitive, non-constant force contraction can be detected and interpreted on the basis of the amplitude distribution provided by high-density sEMG techniques. Twelve healthy male subjects performed isometric shoulder elevations, repeating five times a force ramp profile up to 25 % of the maximal voluntary contraction (MVC). A 64-electrode matrix was used to detect sEMG from the trapezius muscle. The sEMG amplitude distribution was obtained for the force levels in the range 5–25 % MVC with steps of 5 % MVC. The effect of force level, subject, electrode position and ramp repetition on the sEMG amplitude distribution was tested. The sEMG amplitude was significantly smaller in the columns of the electrode grid over the tendons (repeated measures ANOVA, p < 0.01). The barycentre of the distribution of sEMG amplitude was subject-specific (Kruskal–Wallis test, p < 0.01), and shifted caudally with the increase of force levels and cranially with the repetition of the motor task (both p < 0.01, repeated measures ANOVA). The results are discussed in terms of motor unit recruitment in different muscle sub-portions. It is concluded that the sEMG amplitude distribution obtained by multichannel techniques provides useful information in the study of muscle activity, and that changes in the spatial distribution of the recruited motor units during a force varying isometric contraction might partially explain the variability observed in the activation pattern of the upper trapezius muscle.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)887-894
Number of pages8
JournalEuropean Journal of Applied Physiology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2012


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