If I am in pain, how can electrodiagnostic procedures help me identify nerve or muscle issues?

By: Dr. Mariam Washington
DHR Health Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation

Electrodiagnostics, often misnamed as EMG only, can help identify the source of a patient’s pain and are often ordered for this purpose, but there are, in fact, two parts to this study. Sometimes only one part of these studies is required to reach a diagnosis, either EMG or NCS, but this depends on the patient’s symptoms.

Electromyography (EMG) Studies
An EMG is a needle study that evaluates how nerves and muscles communicate with each other.

Nerve Conduction Studies
Nerve conduction studies (NCS) are electrical studies where electrodes are placed onto the skin and a stimulus is sent through the nerves and recorded by the electrode in order to assess the health of the nerves tested.

What can these studies help diagnose?
These studies can help diagnose nerve compression anywhere from the spine down the arms or legs, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatic neuropathy, and radiculopathy. They can also help assess for more complicated and generalized disease processes, like neuromuscular junction disorders, myopathies, or motor neuron diseases.

What can I expect during an appointment?
I will get a complete history of your symptoms and decide what testing will be needed to thoroughly diagnose the source of these symptoms. In the same appointment, I will perform the studies with your consent and give you the diagnosis before you leave the clinic. Depending on what the initial complaint is, I can help identify treatment options and either treat the diagnosis myself with splinting, medications, therapies, or injections, or I will refer you to another specialist to treat what is beyond my scope of practice. Most insurances do require referrals, and one would be needed to perform the studies in the same visit as the initial consultation.

Does it hurt?
The most common question I am asked is, “Does it hurt?” I would be remiss to say it does not hurt. Most people find the exam to be uncomfortable, but some do experience more pain depending on their individual pain tolerance. These studies are vitally important to help identify injuries or diseases, as well as to identify treatment options. If surgery is considered, the results of these studies help determine what surgical intervention is needed. The results can also help with prognosis of diseases and injuries to support decisions for treatment options.

State-of-the-art technology is becoming more available to residents of the Rio Grande Valley. If you would like more information or want to know if you are a good candidate for EMG services, please speak to your primary care physician or call DHR Health Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at (956) 362-6075. Our team is available to answer any questions you may have and can help guide you in the steps to take to schedule your appointment.