Volume conduction in an anatomically based surface EMG model

Madeleine M. Lowery*, Nikolay S. Stoykov, Julius P.A. Dewald, Todd A. Kuiken

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


A finite-element model to simulate surface electromyography (EMG) in a realistic human upper arm is presented. The model is used to explore the effect of limb geometry on surface-detected muscle fiber action potentials. The model was based on magnetic resonance images of the subject's upper arm and includes both resistive and capacitive material properties. To validate the model geometry, experimental and simulated potentials were compared at different electrode sites during the application of a subthreshold sinusoidal current source to the skin surface. Of the material properties examined, the closest approximation to the experimental data yielded a mean root-mean-square (rms) error of the normalized surface potential of 18% or 27%, depending on the site of the applied source. Surface-detected action potentials simulated using the realistic volume conductor model and an idealized cylindrical model based on the same limb geometry were then compared. Variation in the simulated limb geometry had a considerable effect on action potential shape. However, the rate of decay of the action potential amplitude with increasing distance from the fiber was similar in both models. Inclusion of capacitive material properties resulted in temporal low-pass filtering of the surface action potentials. This effect was most pronounced in the end-effect components of action potentials detected at locations far from the active fiber. It is concluded that accurate modeling of the limb geometry, asymmetry, tissue capacitance and fiber curvature is important when the specific action potential shapes are of interest. However, if the objective is to examine more qualitative features of the surface EMG signal, then an idealized volume conductor model with appropriate tissue thicknesses provides a close approximation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2138-2147
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2004


  • Capacitance
  • EMG
  • Finite-element
  • Geometry
  • MRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biomedical Engineering


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