J Electromyogr Kinesiol 2019 Jun 21;46:70-83. Epub 2019 Mar 21.
Department of Integrative Physiology, University of Colorado, Boulder, CO, USA. Electronic address:
Advances in technology have ushered in a new era in the measurement and interpretation of surface-recorded electromyographic (EMG) signals. These developments have included improvements in detection systems, the algorithms used to decompose the interference signals, and the strategies used to edit the identified waveforms. To evaluate the validity of the results obtained with this new technology, the purpose of this review was to compare the results achieved by decomposing surface-recorded EMG signals into the discharge times of single motor units with what is known about the rate coding characteristics of single motor units based on recordings obtained with intramuscular electrodes. The characteristics compared were peak discharge rate, saturation of discharge rate during submaximal contractions, rate coding during fast contractions, the association between oscillations in force and discharge rate, and adjustments during fatiguing contractions. The comparison indicates that some decomposition methods are able to replicate many of the findings derived from intramuscular recordings, but additional improvements in the methods are required. Critically, more effort needs to be focused on editing the waveforms identified by the decomposition algorithms. With adequate attention to detail, this technology has the potential to augment our knowledge on motor unit physiology and to provide useful approaches that are being translated into clinical practice.