Electromyogram: Everything You Need to Know About Evaluating Your Pain

by AZ Pain Doctors, on Dec 23, 2020 3:31:00 PM

An electromyogram is a critical test if you want more information about your muscles and nerves' condition. It's a non-invasive test that can give you the answers you need if you have certain types of muscle symptoms as determined by your doctor.

Is your doctor suggesting you get an electromyogram? Find out everything you need to know about this test and how it evaluates your pain.

Why Get an EMG Test?

A physician will often order an electromyogram nerve conduction test if you present with any of the following symptoms:

  • Unexplained pain or weakness in your limbs
  • Tingling
  • Cramping
  • Involuntary muscle twitching
  • Paralysis

An electromyogram evaluates muscle evaluates the condition of your muscles and, more importantly, your nerves. From problems with the muscles and joints to more serious diseases, an EMG can help determine some of the following medical conditions:

  • Herniated discs compressing spinal nerves
  • Bone spurs interrupting nerve pathways
  • Spinal stenosis interfering with nerve root signaling
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS, aka "Lou Gehrig's Disease") attacking nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord
  • Myasthenia Gravis causing muscle fatigue and weakness on a cellular level
  • Muscular Dystrophy leading to genetic mutations in the muscle cells
  • Guillian-Barré Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that causes nerve degeneration

Any of these conditions can lead to lifelong pain, disability, and (in the case of ALS) death. One of the reasons why an EMG test is so important in the medical field is that it can help you understand whether a condition is structural or cellular.

Neurological conditions are a serious challenge for the medical field nationwide. An estimated 12 million adults will develop a neurodegenerative condition within the next 30 years. 

EMG tests are key to early detection for many of the most severe neurological diseases. If you are suffering from any of the signs or symptoms listed above, an EMG test can give you the peace of mind you need or the knowledge you need to start preparing for your future care.

What Does an Electromyogram?

An EMG tests for electrical activity in both spinal and peripheral nerves. Nerves are like wires sending electrical signals throughout your body. Many of the functions that rely on nerve signals are "autonomic," meaning you don't have to do anything to make them happen; they just occur naturally.

All of your vital organs need nerve signals–not just your muscles. When a chronic condition hits you, even though it may show up in your muscles as pain, weakness, or tingling, the symptoms can point to a condition more serious existing at the neurological level. 

Compared to grave conditions like ALS, carpal tunnel syndrome is relatively benign, but it can still be painful and interrupt your quality of life. Since all nerves carry electrical signals, an EMG can pinpoint exactly where there's a lack of activity. 

An EMG can determine:

  • Where a nerve is cut off or "pinched."
  • How badly a nerve signal is interrupted
  • If there is damage to the nerve, and if so, how severely

Knowing where there are "gaps" in nerve signals, or where nerve signaling may be lacking, can help doctors understand if your symptoms are part of a chronic condition or something that can be addressed by rehabilitation therapy, like chiropractic treatment

The EMG Procedure

The EMG procedure is an invasive procedure that takes no more than 30 minutes in total. 

Electromyogram EMG electrodes are placed at various spots on your body, depending on your symptoms. Often, the EMG electrodes are merely stuck to your skin's surface. If your neurologist wants to test deep within the muscle, he or she may opt for electrode needles. 

It's not just a lack of signaling that an EMG tests, but also over-signaling. All-in-all, what your doctor is looking for is abnormal nerve signaling, which is a sign of nerve problems.

With the electrodes applied to your body, your physician will gauge the activity at rest. If muscles show abnormally high voltage signals when at rest, this can point to nerve dysfunction. 

Your doctor will also give instructions on when to tighten certain muscles, depending on what's being tested. If the EMG reading shows abnormally low (or high) activity, it may signify a disorder. 

Before and After the Procedure

Before your EMG, you may be asked to stop taking any prescription medication. You will be expected to arrive bathed with no lotions or moisturizers on your skin, as this type of product can interfere with the readings.

If you take blood-thinning medications or have hemophilia or another condition that would cause you to bleed excessively, you should let your physician know. Also, inform your physician if you wear a pacemaker or other electrical medical device.

After the procedure, you may experience mild soreness or bruising at the sites where needle electrodes were attached. Your neurologist will read your results and interpret them for you in a follow-up visit.

The Nerve Conduction Test

A separate but closely-related study is the nerve conduction test. Instead of passively measuring muscle output voltage, a nerve conduction test sends electrical signals to your muscles to test their reactivity.

How well and how fast do your muscles react to an external stimulus? Their reaction's overall quality is known as "conduction velocity," and it can yield just as much critical information on your muscle health as an EMG.

Determining Your Treatment

Diagnostic tests like the EMG and the nerve conduction test can help your doctor determine your best options for medical care. If your condition is more of a structural, musculoskeletal condition, you don't want to rush to conclusions about it being a chronic neurodegenerative disorder. 

However, if you have a chronic condition and you decide to treat it as you would sciatica or a herniated disc, a thousand visit to the chiropractor will be useless. You may be setting yourself up for unreasonable expectations with physical rehab modalities. 

Comprehensive Treatment

Having the most accurate information should be your top priority. An electromyogram can give you the answers you need to get the most appropriate care.

Contact us today to explore our comprehensive treatment options.