Can the size principle be detected in conventional EMG recordings?

M Ertas, E Stålberg, B Falck
Muscle & Nerve 1995, 18 (4): 435-9
According to Henneman's size principle, small motor units are recruited before large ones. It is commonly believed that this can be detected in routine conventional EMG recordings even among the earliest recruited motor units. That is, the MUP amplitude, area, and thickness should increase with recruitment order. We studied the first four motor unit potentials (MUPs) recruited within the pickup area of the electrodes. Data were obtained from 179 different sites in monopolar recordings and in 153 concentric recordings from 5 health subjects. In the pooled material, amplitude, area, and thickness increased slightly between consecutively recruited MUPs. However, at individual recording sites the size of consecutively recruited MUPs varied considerably. At some recording sites the first recruited MUP had the largest amplitude and the later MUPs has successively smaller amplitudes. We conclude that, at individual recording sites, the size principle cannot be detected in low threshold motor units with monopolar or concentric EMG electrodes. The reason for this is the small uptake area of these electrodes in relation to the motor unit territory.

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