MOtoNMS: A MATLAB toolbox to process motion data for neuromusculoskeletal modeling and simulation
© Mantoan et al. 2015
Received: 18 February 2015
Accepted: 31 October 2015
Published: 16 November 2015
Neuromusculoskeletal modeling and simulation enable investigation of the neuromusculoskeletal system and its role in human movement dynamics. These methods are progressively introduced into daily clinical practice. However, a major factor limiting this translation is the lack of robust tools for the pre-processing of experimental movement data for their use in neuromusculoskeletal modeling software.
This paper presents MOtoNMS (matlab MOtion data elaboration TOolbox for NeuroMusculoSkeletal applications), a toolbox freely available to the community, that aims to fill this lack. MOtoNMS processes experimental data from different motion analysis devices and generates input data for neuromusculoskeletal modeling and simulation software, such as OpenSim and CEINMS (Calibrated EMG-Informed NMS Modelling Toolbox). MOtoNMS implements commonly required processing steps and its generic architecture simplifies the integration of new user-defined processing components. MOtoNMS allows users to setup their laboratory configurations and processing procedures through user-friendly graphical interfaces, without requiring advanced computer skills. Finally, configuration choices can be stored enabling the full reproduction of the processing steps. MOtoNMS is released under GNU General Public License and it is available at the SimTK website and from the GitHub repository. Motion data collected at four institutions demonstrate that, despite differences in laboratory instrumentation and procedures, MOtoNMS succeeds in processing data and producing consistent inputs for OpenSim and CEINMS.
MOtoNMS fills the gap between motion analysis and neuromusculoskeletal modeling and simulation. Its support to several devices, a complete implementation of the pre-processing procedures, its simple extensibility, the available user interfaces, and its free availability can boost the translation of neuromusculoskeletal methods in daily and clinical practice.
KeywordsNeuromusculoskeletal modeling Motion data Data processing OpenSim C3D
Neuromusculoskeletal modeling and dynamics simulation have recently emerged as powerful tools to establish the causal relation between the neuromusculoskeletal system function and the observed movement. They estimate human internal variables, such as neural signals and muscle dynamics, that could not be derived by experimental measures and conventional motion analysis [1–5]. This provides a key contribution to fully understand human locomotion in healthy subjects and to establish a scientific basis for rehabilitation treatment of pathological movements [2, 5, 6].
In the latest years, several software tools (e.g., SIMM, AnyBody, OpenSim, MSMS) were released to automate and facilitate the complex and time-consuming process of modeling and simulate the movement of musculoskeletal systems [7–10]. Among them, the freely available OpenSim software has seen a widespread adoption with a growing network of research applications [4, 11–14].
Regardless the applications and the final objective of the study, these software tools require as input the simultaneous recordings of heterogeneous motion data acquired with different devices: three-dimensional marker trajectories, foot ground reaction forces (GRFs), and, often, surface electromyography (EMG). Before the recorded raw data can actually be used as input for the simulation softwares, several pre-processing steps are required depending on the objective of the study [15, 16]. Among them, filtering is usually performed and is one of the most critical [17, 18]. In addition, simpler steps as transformations among coordinate systems of the acquisition devices and the musculoskeletal modeling software still require to be carefully defined. Finally, the integrated and pre-processed motion data must be stored using the file format of the chosen simulation software.
While mature tools are available for the analysis of biomechanical data , there is still a lack of a robust tool for the pre-processing of experimental recorded data for optimal integration in neuromusculoskeletal modeling and simulation software. This represents a major factor limiting the translation of neuromusculoskeletal studies into daily practice, as highlighted by several researchers [13, 20, 21].
The main cause holding back the development of such a tool is probably the large number of commercially available motion analysis devices and proprietary softwares [13, 20, 22]. It is therefore difficult to handle all data seamlessly and with unified procedures. As a recognized problem, the biomechanics community proposed a standard file format (C3D – Coordinate 3D, ) to store all the heterogenous motion data: raw coordinate of 3D points, raw analog data from synchronized devices, force plates calibration, analog channels configuration, sample rates, and quantities computed by the acquisition software (joint angle, joint moment, joint power, …).
Despite the maturity of C3D, its use is still limited. Most of the companies provide acquisition systems that record information using different file formats and proprietary software tools that mainly process data with their own format. The consequence is that researchers develop a proliferation of custom tools and codes that perform similar processing pipeline, but might differ for the input data format and for the use of procedures and proprietary software specific to an acquisition system. As the latter are usually not openly available, it becomes difficult to reproduce the same data processing procedures in a consistent and repeatable way across different laboratories [20, 24].
Over the last years, the problem escalated as emerging biomechanics research challenges require multidisciplinary knowledge stimulating multicenter collaborations [25, 26]. Thus, the definition of shared and standard procedures for biomechanical data collection, management, and processing is increasingly required [20, 24].
This work presents MOtoNMS (matlab MOtion data elaboration TOolbox for NeuroMusculoSkeletal applications), a software toolbox that directly addresses this problem. MOtoNMS is an open source software  that has been already successfully used to process and share data from different laboratories, each one with its own gait analysis instrumentation and methodologies, for their use in neuromusculoskeletal analyses and applications.
The procedures implemented in MOtoNMS include: (i) computation of centers of pressure and torques for the most commonly available force platforms (types 1 to 4, including Bertec, AMTI, and Kistler); (ii) transformation of data between different coordinate systems; (iii) EMG filtering, maximum EMG peak computation, and EMG normalization; (iv) different procedures for gait events detection; (v) joint centers computation methods for hip, knee, ankle, elbow, shoulder, and wrist; (vi) support for OpenSim file formats and possibility to configure new output formats.
While MOtoNMS already provides a library of modules for the most commonly required steps, its architecture is designed to be open to new contributions in instrumentations, protocols, and methodologies. The choice of MATLAB, the most widespread language among biomechanists, goes also in the direction of simplifying the sharing of procedures within the community.
This paper describes the toolbox structure and modules, and then introduces the testing procedure. Finally, the paper points out MOtoNMS key features and main advantages. Motion data and results, freely available, show that MOtoNMS can handle experimental data collected in motion analysis laboratories with different setups and can process them to provide inputs for OpenSim  and CEINMS [28, 29]. The latter is a freely available neuromusculoskeletal software, developed by the authors’ research groups, that uses experimentally recorded EMG signals as estimates of the individual muscle recruitment strategies to predict muscle forces and joint moments .
The MOtoNMS toolbox is implemented in MATLAB (The MathWorks, USA) and is intended to be accessible to a wide spectrum of users, from researchers to clinicians, who are interested in pre-processing experimental motion data to be used in neuromusculoskeletal simulations. The selection and setup of procedures is available through a set of graphical user interfaces, thus not requiring end-users to have advanced computer skills. Current MOtoNMS release works with MATLAB R2010b and later versions, and runs on the major operating systems (Windows, Linux, and MacOS X).
Data Elaboration is the toolbox core with the two blocks of Dynamic Trials Elaboration and Static Trials Elaboration. These are responsible for processing EMG, GRFs, and marker trajectories for dynamic and static trials.
Dynamic Trials Elaboration
The analysis window definition sub-block (Fig. 2) allows selection of the data segments to be processed according to users choices. Frames of interest can be selected based on events, when available in the input C3D files. Alternatively, a thresholding algorithm based on GRF data is implemented for automatic detection of heel strike and toe off events . Lastly, a manual selection of start and stop frames is also possible. Processed GRFs are then used to compute FP free torques  based on filtered forces, moments, and CoP for the selected frames. Finally, marker and GRF data are transformed from laboratory or FP reference systems to the global reference system of the selected musculoskeletal application, i.e. OpenSim. Required rotations depend on the laboratory setup described in the dedicated configuration file (“System Configuration” Section).
When available, raw EMG signals are processed by high-pass filtering, rectification, and low-pass filtering . Resulting EMG linear envelopes are then normalized. For each muscle, the maximum EMG peak is identified by extracting the maximum instantaneous value from a set of trials selected by the user for the specific purpose. Those values are then logged in a text file. Other intermediate processing results (i.e., selected and processed EMG, filtered GRFs, CoPs, and moments within the analysis window) are also stored in dedicated folders, together with plots that facilitate their visual inspection.
Static Trials Elaboration
The objective of the Static Trials Elaboration block is to optimize data for the scaling of generic musculoskeletal models, which is essential to match an individual’s anthropometry . Therefore it processes marker trajectories recorded during static standing trials and provides methods for the computation of subject-specific joint centers, which are usually recommended to improve the accuracy of the scaling procedure. This block is designed to accommodate different algorithms for the joint centers estimation. Users can include their own procedures for the joints of interest. Currently, MOtoNMS provides joint centers computation methods for hip, knee, ankle, elbow, shoulder, and wrist. Hip joint center is estimated through Harrington method , while the others are computed as the mid points between anatomical landmarks specified by the user.
Data Management (Fig. 1) deals with input and output data, supporting an easy integration of new file formats and inducing a clear and uniquely defined organization of the files. This is achieved also through a complete separation between Data Management and Data Elaboration.
Input data loading
Input data are extracted from C3D files and stored in MATLAB structures. This avoids continuous and computationally expensive access to C3D files. The extracted data include: marker trajectories, FP characteristics, GRFs, EMG signals, other data from analog channels, and events. Two implementations for data extraction are available: using C3Dserver software , limited to MATLAB 32 bit on Window platforms, or exploiting the Biomechanical Toolkit (BTK, ). Users can choose between the two alternatives according to the system requirements, with the second one enabling cross-platform execution.
The choice of supporting only C3D as input file format does not limit the usability of MOtoNMS. Indeed, being the standard for the representation of biomechanical data, usually acquisition systems (Vicon, Qualysis, BTS, MotionAnalysis, Codamotion, etc.) export synchronized data in the C3D file format.
Output data generation
The processed marker trajectories and GRFs are stored in.trc and.mot files (OpenSim file formats). The EMG linear envelopes are exported by default to.mot files (SIMM and OpenSim motion format), compatible also with the CEINMS toolbox . Alternative file formats can be selected by the user, such as.sto (OpenSim storage) and text formats. The support of new file formats for other musculoskeletal modeling software requires the implementation of additional output blocks. These have only to store in the desired file formats the data already available from the processing phase, thus not introducing any change in the Data Elaboration step (Fig. 1).
Data storage structure
Characteristics of the laboratories testing MOtoNMS
sampling rate (Hz)
BTS Smart E
modified version of
BTS Pocket EMG
1-6: FP1; 7-12: FP2;
BTS Smart Capture
1-6: FP1; 8-13: FP2
Qualysis Track Manager (QTM)
10 Points Cluster 
Aurion Zero Wire
1-6: FP1; 7-12: FP2;
UWA full-body 
Noraxon 2400T G2
1-6: FP1; 7-12: FP2;
Tests aimed at proving the correctness of execution on different combinations of configuration options, i.e., the definition of the analysis window, the cut-off frequencies for filtering, number and combination of trials to be elaborated and different sets of trials for the computation of the maximum EMG peak.
To illustrate MOtoNMS capabilities, a selection of the collected trials and examples of obtained results with the corresponding configuration files are freely available for download . Three elaborations for the dynamic trials and one for the static acquisitions are included for each data set. Resulting.trc and.mot files can be directly loaded in OpenSim and used to visualize the processed data. The full MATLAB source code of MOtoNMS  with the User Manual  is also available to allow reproducibility of results and additional testing.
FPs characteristics of the laboratories testing MOtoNMS
Brand and Model
Position along the walkway
Discussion and conclusions
MOtoNMS enables processing motion data collected with different instruments and procedures, and generates inputs for neuromusculoskeletal modeling software. Marker trajectories, GRFs, and joint centers are processed and saved using OpenSim file formats , while normalized EMG linear envelopes are exported by default to the OpenSim motion file format (.mot), compatible also with CEINMS .
MOtoNMS has been designed to be flexible and highly configurable, to satisfy the requests of different research groups without the need of accessing and modifying the code. Indeed, processing properties (i.e., selected trials, cut-off frequencies, data analysis window, markers list, joint centers of interest, …) can be selected directly from user-friendly graphical interfaces and stored, together with the laboratory arrangements, in configuration files. In addition, processed data, along with the configuration and processing log files, are automatically organized in output directories with a uniquely defined structure. This becomes an essential feature for information retrieval and when results are shared among different research teams, especially if large amount of data are involved. Finally, MOtoNMS has been developed in MATLAB for its large diffusion in biomechanics research, and works on the most diffused operating systems (Windows, Linux, and Mac OS X).
Currently available alternatives to MOtoNMS do not provide complete solutions that generalize across laboratories. Lee S. and Son J. proposed a toolbox that converts motion data in OpenSim inputs , however it is limited to VICON systems only. Other MATLAB functions with a broader applicability are available on the SimTK.org website [39, 40]. While they implement several tasks, they are not connected in a well-structured instrument able to fully process data in a single procedure [41, 42]. The users are required to go through a sequence of MATLAB functions and often to adapt the code to their own laboratory configuration and experimental protocols. Tim Dorn provides a complete tool with the C3D Extraction Toolbox . However, support and testing of different laboratory setup is limited to specific instrumentation types (e.g., assumption of AMTI force plates). Finally, none of these solutions provide a tool to process the recorded data supplying filtering blocks, several methods for the analysis windows selection, computation of joint centers, EMG linear envelopes and maximum EMG peaks from selected trials for normalization, and graphical interfaces.
Results showed that MOtoNMS could instead be used to process data from laboratories of four institutions (Table 1) with three different motion capture systems (i.e., Vicon, BTS, Qualisys), EMG units (Noraxon, BTS, and Zerowire), as well as GRF data generated by four different force plate types (e.g., types 1 to 4 by Bertec, AMTI, and Krisler, Table 2). This makes MOtoNMS the first toolbox that allows users to easily configure the processing of motion data from laboratories with different instruments, software, protocols, and methodologies, and export data processed for musculoskeletal applications. MOtoNMS currently supports OpenSim and CEINMS file formats. Nevertheless, its modular design supports the integration of additional blocks for the generation of output files required by other musculoskeletal applications.
MOtoNMS is an ongoing software with a dynamic cycle of development, aimed at extending its features. Additional methods for joint centers computation, e.g. based on functional movements, may be included in a near future. Customizable algorithms for a better control in the computation of EMG maximum and average could also be introduced. We are also planning to distribute a database of configuration files for the most popular acquisition protocols [44–46]. In addition, we will provide a standalone application of MOtoNMS using the MATLAB Runtime Compiler that will allow the use of the software in the contexts, such as the clinical one, where the diffusion of MATLAB could be limited.
MOtoNMS is released under GNU GPL license and latest versions of the toolbox are constantly uploaded on the project page at the SimTK.org website , together with up-to-date documentation and a set of testing data. The GitHub repository of the project traces changes in the development of the software and aims at encouraging contributions to extend MOtoNMS capabilities from other users .
The authors hope that MOtoNMS will be useful to the research community, reducing the gap between experimental motion data and neuromusculoskeletal simulation software, and uniforming data processing methods across laboratories. Moreover, reduction of processing time and the intuitive graphical user interfaces may facilitate the translation of neuromusculoskeletal modeling and simulation to daily and clinical practice.
Availability and requirements
Project name: MOtoNMSProject home page: https://simtk.org/home/motonms/ Repository: https://github.com/RehabEngGroup/MOtoNMS (public GIT repository)DOI: 10.5281/zenodo.18690Test Data: https://simtk.org/home/motonms/ Documentation: http://rehabenggroup.github.io/MOtoNMS/ [User Manual]Operating system(s): Platform independentProgramming language: MATLABOther requirements: C3Dserver (http://www.c3dserver.com/) or Biomechanical Toolkit (BTK, https://code.google.com/p/b-tk/)License: GNU General Public License v3Any restrictions to use by non-academics: None
Center of Pressure
GNU General Public License
Foot Ground Reaction Forces
Extensibile Markup Language
XML Schema Definition
The authors would like to thank Michele Vivian for his contributions to the initial idea of this project, and Peter Staab for testing MOtoNMS with FP of type 3. We are grateful to Dr. Leonardo Gizzi and Dr. Fabiola Spolaor for their help in data collection at UMG and UNIPD, respectively. We would also like to thank Prof. David G. Lloyd and Prof. Dario Farina for granting us access to their laboratory facilities. Finally, the authors would like to thank all the researchers at the University of Western Australia and at the Griffith University that contributed to the original processing pipeline. This research has been partially supported by EU-FP7 grant BioMot (project no. 611695).
Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver(http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
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