Surface EMG Basics

5 November 2010
– a BioFeedBack Resources International email newsletter –
written & edited by Harry L. Campbell, President
technical editing and production by Edwin Johnson
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Inside this issue:

  1. Surface EMG Basics – by Harry Campbell
  2. Fall Training Opportunities


I. Surface EMG Basics – by Harry Campbell

Surface EMG can be a simple modality to work with. Although it also has some advanced more complex applications, it is one of the easiest modalities for a person to learn at least some regulation of. Surface EMG can be helpful in teaching clients the concept of biofeedback even if your end goal is to work with a different modality. It can help a person to be convinced that they can actually change what is being measured. Surface EMG is used for tension headaches, neck pain, back pain, other muscular pain, muscle spasms, incontinence, pelvic pain, and many other stress and tension related disorders. It is also used in rehabilitation and ergonomic applications. Surface EMG can be used to train people to relax muscles or increase the level of muscle contraction, as well as proper use of muscles during movements, and correction of unhealthy postures.

Stand alone instruments provide visual and auditory feedback of muscle activity. Computer based instruments provide more advanced and detailed visual and auditory feedback as well as data storage and reporting capabilities.

I have found that some practitioners have gravitated away from Surface EMG in favor of other modalities like Skin Temperature, Skin Conductance, or more recently Heart Rate Variability. There are several reasons that people give for this. Surface EMG requires more work. You need to prep the skin to reduce impedance and be aware of and work to reduce artifacts. I have heard some mental health practitioners express reluctance to using Surface EMG because it involves more touching of the client. Some practitioners decide not to use Surface EMG because of the cost of the disposable sensor and alcohol prep pad supplies. Others prefer the ease of use of the Skin Temperature, Skin Conductance, or Heart Rate Variability (plethysmograph) modalities because little or no prep is required. Although these modalities are very useful for many applications, they cannot replace Surface EMG for the applications that Surface EMG is best for. You cannot do muscle re-education biofeedback with Skin Temperature, Skin Conductance, or HRV. Mastering self regulation of one modality does not mean regulation of all other modalities. A person can have a low skin conductance level and a high Surface EMG level at the same time. You might not even know that there is a muscle tension issue if you don’t use the Surface EMG modality. The best way to work on the high muscle tension is with Surface EMG biofeedback.

The message here is that you should not ignore such a powerfully useful modality when it is appropriate. Don’t get locked into using one modality for everything. Use the best tool for the job at hand. Dust off your EMG if you already have one and get some use out of it. If you don’t already have one I strongly recommend you add Surface EMG to your toolbox.

Examples of stand alone Surface EMG instruments:

Examples of computer based Surface EMG instruments:
You can download free in-depth information on Surface EMG from the library section of our website. There is one report on Surface EMG for Psychophysiology applications and another one on Surface EMG for Rehabilitation and Biomechanics applications.

For the free reports:


II. Fall Training Opportunities

Nov 5, 2010 – Hawthorne, NY
Nov 6, 2010 – Hawthorne, NY
Nov 12-15, 2010 – Hawthorne, NY
Nov 21, 2010 – Raleigh, NC
Dec 4, 2010 – Houston, TX

For our full biofeedback and neurofeedback training schedule:

or call 877-669-6463 / 914-762-4646

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