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J Exp Biol. 2004 Jun;207(Pt 14):2519-28.

Spectral properties of myoelectric signals from different motor units in the leg extensor muscles.

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Human Performance Laboratory, Faculty of Kinesiology, University of Calgary, Alberta, T2N 1N4, Canada.


Myoelectric signals measured using intramuscular electromyograms (EMGs) in animals have shown that faster motor units generate higher frequencies in their power spectra. However, evidence to relate myoelectric frequency and motor unit type from the surface electromyograms typically measured from man have remained elusive. The purpose of this study was to determine if spectral properties from surface EMG could be related to the different motor units in the muscles of the leg extensors in man. Reflex experiments (both tendon tap and electrically stimulated) and graded isometric contractions were used to generate muscle contractions with different patterns of motor unit recruitment. EMG was recorded from the vastus lateralis and medialis, rectus femoris, medial and lateral gastrocnemius and soleus muscles. The EMGs were resolved into their intensities in time-frequency space using wavelet techniques. The intensity spectra were calculated for the reflex responses and for different contractile forces. The spectra were compared using principle component analyses and ANCOVA. Electrical stimulation can result in preferentially faster motor units being recruited, and in this study resulted in higher myoelectric frequencies than for the stretch reflex. During ramped contractions the motor units are recruited in an orderly fashion from slow to fast. As the faster motor units were recruited then higher frequency components appeared within the myoelectric intensity spectra. For all muscles tested there were significant correlations between the stage in contraction and the EMG frequency. Both approaches demonstrated higher frequency components in the myoelectric spectra when the faster motor units could be assumed to be active.

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