Biological Cybernetics

, Volume 67, Issue 2, pp 143–153 | Cite as

Detection of motor unit action potentials with surface electrodes: influence of electrode size and spacing

  • Andrew J. Fuglevand
  • David A. Winter
  • Aftab E. Patla
  • Daniel Stashuk


A model of the motor unit action potential was developed to investigate the amplitude and frequency spectrum contributions of motor units, located at various depths within muscle, to the surface detected electromyographic (EMG) signal. A dipole representation of the transmembrane current in a three-dimensional muscle volume was used to estimate detected individual muscle fiber action potentials. The effects of anisotropic muscle conductance, innervation zone location, propagation velocity, fiber length, electrode area, and electrode configuration were included in the fiber action potential model. A motor unit action potential was assumed to be the sum of the individual muscle fiber action potentials. A computational procedure, based on the notion of isopotential layers, was developed which substantially reduced the calculation time required to estimate motor unit action potentials. The simulations indicated that: 1) only those motor units with muscle fibers located within 10–12 mm of the electrodes would contribute significant signal energy to the surface EMG, 2) variation in surface area of electrodes has little effect on the detection depth of motor unit action potentials, 3) increased interelectrode spacing moderately increases detection depth, and 4) the frequency content of action potentials decreases steeply with increased electrode-motor unit territory distance.


Motor Unit Electrode Configuration Muscle Volume Unit Territory Motor Unit Action Potential 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1992

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew J. Fuglevand
    • 1
  • David A. Winter
    • 1
    • 2
  • Aftab E. Patla
    • 1
  • Daniel Stashuk
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of KinesiologyUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada
  2. 2.Department of Systems Design EngineeringUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada

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