Surface EMG in Clinical Assessment and Neurorehabilitation: Barriers Limiting Its Use

Isabella Campanini, Catherine Disselhorst-Klug, William Z. Rymer, Roberto Merletti*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

109 Scopus citations


This article addresses the potential clinical value of techniques based on surface electromyography (sEMG) in rehabilitation medicine with specific focus on neurorehabilitation. Applications in exercise and sport pathophysiology, in movement analysis, in ergonomics and occupational medicine, and in a number of related fields are also considered. The contrast between the extensive scientific literature in these fields and the limited clinical applications is discussed. The “barriers” between research findings and their application are very broad, and are longstanding, cultural, educational, and technical. Cultural barriers relate to the general acceptance and use of the concept of objective measurement in a clinical setting and its role in promoting Evidence Based Medicine. Wide differences between countries exist in appropriate training in the use of such quantitative measurements in general, and in electrical measurements in particular. These differences are manifest in training programs, in degrees granted, and in academic/research career opportunities. Educational barriers are related to the background in mathematics and physics for rehabilitation clinicians, leading to insufficient basic concepts of signal interpretation, as well as to the lack of a common language with rehabilitation engineers. Technical barriers are being overcome progressively, but progress is still impacted by the lack of user-friendly equipment, insufficient market demand, gadget-like devices, relatively high equipment price and a pervasive lack of interest by manufacturers. Despite the recommendations provided by the 20-year old EU project on “Surface EMG for Non-Invasive Assessment of Muscles (SENIAM),” real international standards are still missing and there is minimal international pressure for developing and applying such standards. The need for change in training and teaching is increasingly felt in the academic world, but is much less perceived in the health delivery system and clinical environments. The rapid technological progress in the fields of sensor and measurement technology (including sEMG), assistive devices, and robotic rehabilitation, has not been driven by clinical demands. Our assertion is that the most important and urgent interventions concern enhanced education, more effective technology transfer, and increased academic opportunities for physiotherapists, occupational therapists, and kinesiologists.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number934
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
StatePublished - Sep 2 2020


  • clinical applications
  • education
  • motion analysis
  • movement sciences
  • physiotherapy
  • rehabilitation
  • sEMG
  • surface electromyography

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology


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