What Is an Electromyography?

What are the reasons that my doctor might recommend an electromyography (EMG) study?

An EMG has interested doctors and scientists for a long time. It was the Italian physician, Francesco Redi, who discovered electrical activity in muscle tissue of a certain type of fish, the electric ray fish, in the mid-1600s. It took another 250 years, but the Germans, specifically the physician Emil du Bois-Reymond, determined that human muscles contain electrical activity and that it is possible to record it. This has resulted in the modern-day diagnostic procedure commonly known as an EMG test.

There are a variety of reasons for muscles that are sore or weak. When patients present these symptoms, doctors cannot always be sure if the problem is originating because of something going on with the muscle, itself, or if the cause might be with the nerves that control the movements of the muscle. Determining the cause is necessary before treatment recommendations can be made and one of the best tools available to your doctor is the EMG.

Because motor neurons, a specialized type of nerve cell, transmit an electrical charge, EMG sensors can record and translate them into graphs and other forms of data that physicians can use to determine whether there is a problem with the muscle, the nerves or the communication between the two. This testing will not identify the cause of the damage, but it can confirm the location and other specifics with regard to the extent of the damage.

The testing is typically done in two parts; one involving nerve conduction and the other an examination of the muscle. The nerve conduction study, commonly referred to as NCS, uses electrodes attached to the skin to records nerve function in specific areas as they are being stimulated with a small external electrical impulse. Then the EMG test is done with an extremely thin needle that actually works as a microphone inside the muscle to determine if there is abnormal electrical activity. 

Some of the most common issues that your doctor will be looking for are carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica, and peripheral neuropathy. Less common but serious conditions that an EMG can also help diagnose include, pinched nerves, herniated discs, MS (muscular dystrophy), ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis), Guillain- Barré syndrome and polio.

Symptoms That May Indicate the Need for an Electromyography

The types of symptoms that you share with your doctor, particularly those that indicate that there might be an issue involving a muscle or nerve disorder, will determine whether an electromyography is deemed necessary. Some of the symptoms that your physician will be looking for include:

  • Ongoing tingling or numbness
  • Weakness experienced in a muscle
  • More than temporary or occasional muscle pain or cramping
  • Muscle spasms
  • Particular types of pain, especially in the arms or the legs

Is there discomfort or risk involved with EMG testing? Anytime you are told they are going to poke you with needles, there is a certain amount of anxiety! In reality, though, the procedure may be a little uncomfortable at the time but this is a very low-risk procedure, and any complications are rare.

At Long Island Spine Rehabilitation Medicine, our physicians are committed to more than just treating your symptoms. We strongly believe that each individual is best served through an integrative treatment plan. We focus on finding the underlying cause and providing non-surgical, evidenced-based solutions tailored to your specific condition and needs. If you are experiencing muscle pain or weakness or have questions about any other condition or service, we invite you to schedule a consultation by using our convenient online form by clicking here