Toward an objective interpretation of surface EMG patterns: a voluntary response index (VRI)

J Electromyogr Kinesiol. 2004 Jun;14(3):379-88. doi: 10.1016/j.jelekin.2003.10.006.


Individuals with incomplete spinal cord injuries (SCI) retain varying degrees of voluntary motor control. The complexity of the motor control system and the nature of the recording biophysics have inhibited efforts to develop objective measures of voluntary motor control. This paper proposes the definition and use of a voluntary response index (VRI) calculated from quantitative analysis of surface electromyographic (sEMG) data recorded during defined voluntary movement as a sensitive measure of voluntary motor control in such individuals. The VRI is comprised of two numeric values, one derived from the total muscle activity recorded for the voluntary motor task (magnitude), and the other from the sEMG distribution across the recorded muscles (similarity index (SI)). Calculated as a vector, the distribution of sEMG from the test subject is compared to the average vector calculated from sEMG recordings of the same motor task from 10 neurologically intact subjects in a protocol called brain motor control assessment (BMCA). To evaluate the stability of the VRI, a group of five healthy subjects were individually compared to the prototype, average healthy-subject vectors for all of the maneuvers. To evaluate the sensitivity of this method, the VRI was obtained from two SCI subjects participating in other research studies. One was undergoing supported treadmill ambulation training, and the other a controlled withdrawal of anti-spasticity medications. The supported treadmill training patient's VRI, calculated from pre- and post-training BMCA recordings, reflected the qualitative changes in sEMG patterns and functional improvement of motor control. The VRI of the patient followed by serial BMCA during medication withdrawal also reflected changes in the motor control as a result of changes in anti-spasticity medication. To validate this index for clinical use, serial studies using larger numbers of subjects with compromised motor control should be performed.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Diagnosis, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Electromyography / methods*
  • Female
  • Gait
  • Humans
  • Lower Extremity / physiopathology
  • Male
  • Movement*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / diagnosis*
  • Spinal Cord Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Volition*