Rectification of EMG in low force contractions improves detection of motor unit coherence in the beta-frequency band

Nicholas J. Ward, Simon F. Farmer, Luc Berthouze, David M. Halliday

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Rectification of surface EMG before spectral analysis is a well-established preprocessing method used in the detection of motor unit firing patterns. A number of recent studies have called into question the need for rectification before spectral analysis, pointing out that there is no supporting experimental evidence to justify rectification. We present an analysis of 190 records from 13 subjects consisting of simultaneous recordings of paired single motor units and surface EMG from the extensor digitorum longus muscle during middle finger extension against gravity (unloaded condition) and against gravity plus inertial loading (loaded condition). We directly examine the hypothesis that rectified surface EMG is a better predictor of the frequency components of motor unit synchronization than the unrectified (or raw) EMG in the beta-frequency band (15-32 Hz). We use multivariate analysis and estimate the partial coherence between the paired single units using both rectified and unrectified surface EMG as a predictor. We use a residual partial correlation measure to quantify the difference between raw and rectified EMG as predictor and analyze unloaded and loaded conditions separately. The residual correlation for the unloaded condition is 22% with raw EMG and 3.5% with rectified EMG and for the loaded condition it is 5.2% with raw EMG and 1.4% with rectified EMG. We interpret these results as strong supporting experimental evidence in favor of using the preprocessing step of surface EMG rectification before spectral analysis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1744-1750
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2013


  • Partial coherence
  • EMG rectification
  • Surface EMG
  • Motor unit

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