Ankle Torque Estimation with Motor Unit Discharges in Residual Muscles Following Lower-Limb Amputation

Noah Rubin, Robert Hinson, Katherine Saul, Xiaogang Hu, He Huang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


There has been increased interest in using residual muscle activity for neural control of powered lower-limb prostheses. However, only surface electromyography (EMG)-based decoders have been investigated. This study aims to investigate the potential of using motor unit (MU)-based decoding methods as an alternative to EMG-based intent recognition for ankle torque estimation. Eight people without amputation (NON) and seven people with amputation (AMP) participated in the experiments. Subjects conducted isometric dorsi- and plantarflexion with their intact limb by tracing desired muscle activity of the tibialis anterior (TA) and gastrocnemius (GA) while ankle torque was recorded. To match phantom limb and intact limb activity, AMP mirrored muscle activation with their residual TA and GA. We compared neuromuscular decoders (linear regression) for ankle joint torque estimation based on 1) EMG amplitude (aEMG), 2) MU firing frequencies representing neural drive (ND), and 3) MU firings convolved with modeled twitch forces (MUDrive). In addition, sensitivity analysis and dimensionality reduction of optimization were performed on the MUDrive method to further improve its practical value. Our results suggest MUDrive significantly outperforms (lower root-mean-square error) EMG and ND methods in muscles of NON, as well as both intact and residual muscles of AMP. Reducing the number of optimized MUDrive parameters degraded performance. Even so, optimization computational time was reduced and MUDrive still outperformed aEMG. Our outcomes indicate integrating MU discharges with modeled biomechanical outputs may provide a more accurate torque control signal than direct EMG control of assistive, lower-limb devices, such as exoskeletons and powered prostheses.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4821-4830
Number of pages10
JournalIEEE Transactions on Neural Systems and Rehabilitation Engineering
StatePublished - 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Internal Medicine
  • General Neuroscience
  • Biomedical Engineering
  • Rehabilitation

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