An algorithm for defining the onset and cessation of the flexion-relaxation phenomenon in the low back musculature
The flexion-relaxation phenomenon (FRP) in the low back provides insights into the interplay between the active and passive tissues. Establishing a reliable algorithm for defining the lumbar angle at which the muscles deactivate and reactivate was the focus of the current paper. First, the EMG data were processed using six different smoothing techniques (no smoothing, moving average, moving standard deviation, Butterworth low pass filter at 0.5 Hz, 5 Hz, and 50 Hz) herein called the processed EMG (pEMG). The FRP points were then defined using four thresholds (pEMG less than 3% MVC, pEMG less than 5% MVC, pEMG less than 2 times FRP pEMG, and pEMG less than 3 times FRP pEMG). Finally, a duration requirement was tested (no duration requirement, pEMG data must maintain threshold requirement for 50 data points). Each combination of smoothing, threshold, and duration were applied through a computer program to each muscle for all trials and established an EMG-off and EMG-on angle for each muscle. These estimates were compared to the gold standard of expert-identified EMG-off and EMG-on angles and the root mean square error (RMSE) between this gold standard and the predictions of the algorithms served as the dependent variable. The results showed that the most important factor to produce low values of RMSE is to utilize a Butterworth low pass filter of 5 Hz or less and, if this is employed, there is no value to a duration requirement. The results also suggest that using the “3 times FRP pEMG” threshold technique may provide further improvements in these predictions.