Most motor tasks require the simultaneous coordination of multiple muscles. That coordination is poorly understood in part because there is no noninvasive means of isolating a single muscle's contribution to the resultant endpoint force. The contribution of a single motor unit to isometric tasks can, however, be characterized using the spike-triggered averaging (STA) technique, applied to a single motor unit's spike train. We propose that a technique analogous to STA, which we call electromyogram (EMG)-weighted averaging (EWA), can be applied to surface EMGs to extract muscle mechanical action from the natural endpoint force fluctuations generated during steady isometric contraction. We demonstrate this technique on simultaneous recordings of fingertip force and surface EMG from the first dorsal interosseous (FDI) and extensor indicis (EI) of humans. The EWA direction was approximately the same across a wide range of fingertip force directions, and the average EWA direction was consistent with mechanical action direction of these muscles estimated from cadaveric and imaging data: the EWA directions were 193 ± 2° for the FDI and 71 ± 5° for the EI (95% confidence). EWA transient behavior also appears to capture temporal characteristics of muscle force fluctuations with peak force time and general waveform shape similar to that of the associated spike-triggered averages from single motor units. The EWA may provide a means of empirically characterizing the complex transformation between muscle force and endpoint force without the need for invasive electrode recordings or complex anatomical measurements of musculoskeletal geometry.
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