, Volume 89, Issue 6, pp 514-519
Date: 24 Apr 2003

Influence of the subcutaneous fat layer, as measured by ultrasound, skinfold calipers and BMI, on the EMG amplitude

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Surface electromyography (sEMG) is an important tool to estimate muscular activity at work. There is, however, a great inter-individual variation, even in carefully standardized work tasks. The sEMG signal is attenuated in the subcutaneous tissues, differently for each subject, which requires normalization. This is commonly made in relation to a reference contraction, which by itself, however, introduces a variance. A normalization method that is independent of individual motivation, motor control and pain inhibition would be desirable. The aim of the study was to explore the influence of the subcutaneous tissue thickness on sEMG amplitude. Ultrasound measurements of the muscle to skin surface distance were made bilaterally over the trapezius muscle in 12 females. Skinfold caliper measurements from these sites, as well as from four other sites, were made, body mass index (BMI) was recorded, and sEMG was recorded at maximal and submaximal contractions. The muscle–electrode distance, as measured by ultrasound, explained 33% and 31% (on the dominant and non-dominant sides respectively) of the variance of the sEMG activity at a standardized submaximal contraction (average between the sides, 46%); for maximal contractions the explained variance was 21%. Trapezius skinfold measurements showed poor correlations with sEMG. Instead, the mean of skinfold measurements from other sites explained as much as 68% (submaximal contraction). The corresponding figure for BMI was 67%. In conclusion, skinfold thickness explains a major part of the inter-individual variance in sEMG amplitude, and normalization to this measure is a possibility worth further evaluation.