EMG (electromyogram)/NCS (nerve conduction study)
- EMG (electromyogram) is used to measure the electrical activity produced by muscle fibers. The test is usually performed along with a NCS (nerve conduction study) which looks at the quality and speed of nerve signals as they travel to the muscles.
- To evaluate unexplained muscle weakness, fatigue (tiredness), paralysis, or twitching.
- To localize nerve compression or injury in the spine.
- To diagnose peripheral nerve compression or injury, such as in carpal tunnel syndrome.
- To evaluate numbness or tingling in the extremities.
- To differentiate primary muscle conditions from muscle weakness caused by neurologic disorders.
- To help diagnose abnormalities in connections between the nerves and muscles.
What to expect:
Prior to the test
- Avoid using any skin creams or lotions the day of the test.
- If you have a bleeding disorder or are taking medications that thin your blood (such as warfarin, aspirin, or clopidogrel), notify your doctor.
- Notify your doctor if you have a pacemaker.
Description of the test
- An EMG/NCS is completed in a hospital, clinic, or doctor’s office.
- The nerve conduction study portion of the test is completed first:
- Small metal patches (electrodes) will be taped to your skin over nerves at various locations.
- Then, a mild shock will be given off to stimulate the nerve.
- The time it takes for the electrical impulse to travel from the stimulated nerve to the surrounding electrodes is recorded, along with the quality of the nerve’s overall electrical activity.
- This testing is typically done on several nerves and at different sites along a particular nerve.
- The electromyogram portion of the test is completed following the nerve conduction study.
- The EMG doctor will insert an electrode with a very thin needle into the muscle being tested to record its action potential (ability to respond when the nerves are stimulated).
- Several electrodes may be placed at various locations depending on your symptoms and size of the muscle.
- There will be no shocks given off during this study.
- During the test, you will hear a crackling speaker sound. This is the electrical activity given off by your muscles.
- Periodically, you may be asked to contract or relax the muscle being tested.
After the test
- If you are having the test completed in a clinic or doctor’s office, you will be sent home afterwards without any activity restrictions.
- For a day or two after the test, your muscles may feel tender or you may notice small bruises or swelling around the electrode sites.
How long will it take?
- An electromyogram takes approximately 30 to 60 minutes.
- A nerve conduction study may take anywhere from 15 minutes to 1 hour depending on the number of nerves tested.
- The entire EMG/NCS testing generally takes about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
Will it hurt?
- The shocks given off during the nerve conduction study will produce a brief tingling or shock and a twitching of the muscle.
- The insertion of the needle electrodes during the EMG portion may be uncomfortable, but the pain is usually limited and resolves once the needle is removed.
- After the test, your muscles may feel bruised for 1 to 2 days.
- Immediately after the test, your doctor may be able to give you some information about the findings, but a full report usually takes 2 to 3 days.
Information from the National Institutes of Health, April 2010