Surface EMG signals in very late-stage of Duchenne muscular dystrophy: A case study

J. Lobo Prat, Mariska M.H.P. Janssen, Bart F.J.M. Koopman, Arno H.A. Stienen, Imelda J.M. De Groot

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    Background: Robotic arm supports aim at improving the quality of life for adults with Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) by augmenting their residual functional abilities. A critical component of robotic arm supports is the control interface, as is it responsible for the human-machine interaction. Our previous studies showed the feasibility of using surface electromyography (sEMG) as a control interface to operate robotic arm supports in adults with DMD (22-24 years-old). However, in the biomedical engineering community there is an often raised skepticism on whether adults with DMD at the last stage of their disease have sEMG signals that can be measured and used for control. Findings: In this study sEMG signals from Biceps and Triceps Brachii muscles were measured for the first time in a 37 year-old man with DMD (Brooke 6) that lost his arm function 15 years ago. The sEMG signals were measured during maximal and sub-maximal voluntary isometric contractions and evaluated in terms of signal-to-noise ratio and co-activation ratio. Beyond the profound deterioration of the muscles, we found that sEMG signals from both Biceps and Triceps muscles were measurable in this individual, although with a maximum signal amplitude 100 times lower compared to sEMG from healthy subjects. The participant was able to voluntarily modulate the required level of muscle activation during the sub-maximal voluntary isometric contractions. Despite the low sEMG amplitude and a considerable level of muscle co-activation, simulations of an elbow orthosis using the measured sEMG as driving signal indicated that the sEMG signals of the participant had the potential to provide control of elbow movements. Conclusions: To the best of our knowledge this is the first time that sEMG signals from a man with DMD at the last-stage of the disease were measured, analyzed and reported. These findings offer promising perspectives to the use of sEMG as an intuitive and natural control interface for robotic arm supports in adults with DMD until the last stage of the disease.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number86
    JournalJournal of neuroengineering and rehabilitation
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - 29 Aug 2017


    • Assistive device
    • Control interface
    • Duchenne
    • Surface electromyography (sEMG)
    • Upper extremity


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