Physiology and interpretation of the electromyogram

J Clin Neurophysiol. 1996 Sep;13(5):366-84. doi: 10.1097/00004691-199609000-00002.


The purpose of this review is to consider some issues in the interpretation of the electromyogram (EMG) and to discuss current areas of controversy regarding use of the EMG. We consider the underlying physiology and origin of the EMG signal and offer an abbreviated discussion of measurement issues and selected factors that affect the characteristics of the EMG signal. We discuss many of the problems affecting interpretation, including normalization, crosstalk, and issues specific to contraction. In the final section, we consider topics of current interest in electromyography, such as muscle fatigue, task specificity, multichannel representations, and muscle fiber conduction velocity. We present, in addition, alternative analysis techniques. This review should interest researchers and clinicians who seek to obtain the valuable information inherent in the EMG while respecting the potential sources of variance and misinterpretation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Electrodes
  • Electromyography / instrumentation*
  • Humans
  • Motor Neurons / physiology*
  • Muscle Contraction / physiology
  • Muscle Fibers, Skeletal / physiology
  • Muscles / innervation*
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted / instrumentation*