Faculty Advisor

Prof. Edward A. Clancy

Faculty Advisor

Prof. Fred J. Looft

Faculty Advisor

Prof. Donald R. Brown


In performing manual tasks, muscles are voluntarily contracted in order to produce force and orient the limb in the desired direction. Many occupational tasks are associated with frequent musculoskeletal disorders. In tasks involving skilful manipulation, very frequently the forces are focused on the upper limb and neck. Upper extremity cumulative trauma disorders are among the more common worker related injuries. These muscle disorders may be related to repetitive exertions, excessive muscle loads and extreme postures. One of the major challenges is to quantify the muscle load and researchers have tried various measures to quantify muscle load. Joint mechanical impedance can be a robust method to quantify muscle load. Joint mechanical impedance characterizes the dynamic torque-angle relationship of the joint. Joint impedance has been measured by earlier researchers, for limited tasks, by imparting force (or angle) perturbations on the joint and relating resultant angular (or force) changes. The joint impedance gives a quantitative measure related to muscle co-contraction level. Measurement of the mechanical impedance at the workplace may provide useful information relevant to the understanding of upper limb disorders. Electromyogram (EMG) is the electrical activity of the muscle. Usually, an estimate of the EMG amplitude is obtained from the raw waveform recorded from the surface of the skin. EMG amplitude estimates can be used to non-invasively estimate torque about joints. Presently, there exists no means by which mechanical impedance can be estimated non-invasively (i.e., without external perturbations). Therefore, we proposed the use of EMG to noninvasively estimate the joint mechanical impedance. Our objective in this project was to determine the extent to which surface EMG can be used to estimate mechanical impedance. Simulation studies were first performed to understand the extent to which this tool could be useful and to determine methods to be used for the experiment. The simulations were followed by evaluating and estimating mechanical impedance using data collected from one experimental subject. Simulations helped to devise processing techniques for the measured signals and also to determine the length of data to be collected. Low pass filters for derivatives (used in the development of impedance estimates) were designed. Subtracting out a polynomial was the best approach to attenuate a low frequency drift (artifact) that occurs in torque measurements. Thirty seconds of data provided impedance estimates with a relative error of 5% when EMG amplitude estimates with SNR of 15 were used. Experimental data from constant-posture, slowly force-varying background torque level showed that the elbow joint system behaved like a second order linear system between 2 Hz and 10 Hz. Co-contraction by subjects during experiments caused impedance estimates to be unexpectedly high even at low background torque. Further experiments would need to be conducted with the subjects being instructed to avoid co-contraction.


Worcester Polytechnic Institute

Degree Name



Electrical & Computer Engineering

Project Type


Date Accepted





Electromyogram, Impedance, joint dynamics, estimation, Muscle contraction, Measurement, Electromyography, Joints