Barefoot Science insoles now available! Read Dave's article about research involving this exciting product here: Article

Motor Patterns & Pathologies – Part 1: Artificial Stimulation vs. Natural Observation

By David Lemke

The ideas I share about muscles make perfect sense to everyone who hears them. However, almost no one has ever heard muscle activity described in such simple, logical and practical terms. I describe relationships between muscles in apparently unrelated body parts – and make their functional interdependence clear and impossible to deny. I enjoy connecting the dots (muscularly speaking) so the role of muscles in even the most complex and painful conditions make sense. The most frustrating time in this communication comes when people get excited assuming that because such information exists, everyone in healthcare must know it. If only that were true.

 Artificial Stimulation versus Natural Observation

Zoo animals behave differently than those in the wild. If you’ve seen the Planet Earth series you know researchers go to extreme lengths to ensure the animals they observe are not disturbed. This is done in order to gain true understanding of animal behavior. One observation familiar to anyone would be that if you poke a caterpillar with a stick it will curl up in a ball. From experiments like this we learn that all creatures defend against attacks coming from outside their bodies.

At the turn of the last century (1900), a French physiologist (Duchenne) developed a system whereby he could artificially stimulate muscles to make them contract. I use the term “contract” lightly here because, though he did this using the best technology of the time, what he was triggering was a defensive reaction to artificial stimulation coming from outside the body. Unfortunately, many clinicians don’t realize that the information they have studied on muscle function is built on data from Duchenne’s experiments.


I don’t doubt the good intentions of monsieur Duchenne in his efforts to understand the role of muscles in movement. But without a means of natural, non-invasive observation, the best we can expect from his experiments is a partial understanding of this vital subject.

In 1993 I began studying surface electromyography data and by 1996 I was using kinesiological sEMG to test manual muscle treatment protocols. In 2000 my sEMG based shoulder treatment had been studied by a major university – and my work was supported by a company that was developing a network of clinics performing sEMG tests. As the project developed I was the sole technician analyzing the data and creating reports. I knew I was in a unique position i.e. I was finally observing muscles in the wild! I was on the receiving end of muscle pattern information recorded using a non-invasive testing protocol. The sEMG data was submitted from individuals of multiple ages and body types experiencing a multitude of symptoms.

Based on this experience I can tell you there’s more than meets the eye when it comes to muscle function – certainly more than what you will find in the textbooks.

It’s my hope that the information I share next time will lend a useful perspective to some otherwise mysterious connections in the body.  Hopefully when you see the simplicity and brilliance of how muscles function in the defensive human motor system, you will assess, treat, and educate about muscle function with more confidence and success.

Watch for Part #2 to learn more!