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Electrodiagnostic Testing (EMG/NCV)
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Electrodiagnostic Testing (EMG/NCV)

When facing muscle or nerve pain, it can sometimes be difficult to pinpoint the source of the pain and best treatment options. If more than one diagnosis is being considered, a physician may recommend detailed testing to evaluate nerve and muscle function and determine the source of symptoms. This testing is collectively called electrodiagnostic testing and includes two tests, electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction velocity (NCV).

What Is Electrodiagnostic Testing And Why Is It Used?

Our bodies send electrical signals from our muscles and nerves to our brains. Some disorders cause nerve and muscle damage that is not visible with imaging studies like x-rays, MRI, or CT scans. Electrodiagnostic testing uses electrical impulses to help identify problems with these nerve signals, assessing the speed and strength of the signals and how the muscles and nerves are functioning.

Electrodiagnostic testing, which examines electrical activity across muscles and nerves, is best for diagnosing many specific pain-related conditions. These diagnostic tests are considered when patients complain of numbness, tingling, weakness, muscle cramps, and radiating pain. As previously mentioned, electrodiagnostic testing includes electromyography (EMG) and nerve conduction velocity (NCV).

Some conditions that EMG and NCV can diagnose include nerve and muscle disorders like cervical and lumbosacral radiculopathy, peripheral neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, neuropathy, myopathy, brachial plexopathy, and lumbosacral plexopathy.

If EMG and NCV have been recommended to you, or you are interested in finding out more about these tests, call us today at (480) 573-0130 or contact us online .

A Closer Look: What is an EMG Test?

EMG tests evaluate muscle and nerve function by looking at signals from motor neurons. Depending on the testing results, muscle dysfunction, nerve dysfunction, or signals between the muscle and nerve may be the root cause of pain and other problems.

What happens during an EMG?

To perform an EMG test, a physician will insert small EMG needles called electrodes into the muscles they choose to assess. You may sit or lie down for the test depending on which muscles are being evaluated. Electrical signals created by the muscle will be captured and the activity is tracked.

The physician will observe nerve activity while the muscle is at rest and during a slight muscle contraction or larger contraction. To evaluate this, you will be asked to move the muscle groups being tested.

A Closer Look: What is NCV?

A nerve conduction velocity test, or a nerve conduction study, measures how quickly nerve signals travel through sensory nerves. EMG and NCV tests are often done alongside EMG testing to examine how nerves work in more detail. NCV gives specific results that can indicate a nerve disorder or nerve injury.

What happens during NCV?

NCV studies how specific nerves are electrically sending their signals to corresponding muscles. Unlike EMG, NCV nerve testing is not invasive. Electrodes are placed on the skin and send a small electrical current to stimulate the nerve, which feels like a quick, small shock similar to static electricity.

The speed with which the current travels between electrodes is then measured, helping to pinpoint the source of problems like nerve pain.

An infographic describing EMG and NCV as electrodiagnostic testing.

What Happens After Electrodiagnostic Testing?

The results of electrodiagnostic testing can be shared with your referring physician to help establish the right treatment plan for your symptoms.

After an EMG test, it is normal to have some mild muscle soreness at the sites where the needles were used. This should improve within a day or two. Watch for signs of infection, such as swelling, redness, drainage, or increased pain, and notify your doctor immediately if this happens.

Electrodiagnostic Testing FAQs

Is an EMG test painful?

Pain from the needles used during an EMG can be intimidating. However, EMG typically causes minimal discomfort and is tolerated well; in one study, 82% of patients said the test was “not as bad as expected.”

What are some risks of EMG and NCV?

Both procedures are considered low risk. Other than some discomfort during testing, EMG includes a small risk of bleeding, infection, and nerve damage.

Who should not have an EMG or NCV?

Because EMG and NCV are low-risk procedures, they are generally safe for most people. You should tell your doctor if you are on blood thinners or have any implanted electrical devices like a cardiac defibrillator. Your doctor can tell you if EMG or NCV is right for you.

How accurate are EMG and NCV?

EMG and NCV are part of the information needed to help your healthcare team determine the cause of pain and reveal nerve dysfunction. The accuracy of the tests depends on what your physician is looking for, and additional testing may be recommended as well. Electrodiagnostic testing can be very sensitive in some cases; for example, EMG may help diagnose carpal tunnel syndrome with 85% accuracy.

Ready to Discuss EMG and NCV Testing?

EMG and NCV may be helpful in planning the best course of treatment for pain. Advanced Spine and Pain offers many tests and treatments to help you live your best life with reduced pain. We can walk you through whether electrodiagnostic testing is best for you, what other testing may be appropriate, and the many treatments available for managing pain.

Contact us today for expert advice from our team or call us at (480) 573-0130.


Advanced Spine and Pain is a leading pain management group based in Phoenix, AZ, and quickly expanding throughout the state. Offering minimally-invasive pain care services, the ASAP group consists of Arizona's top pain management specialists, including Drs. Abram Burgher, Todd Turley, and Jarrett Leathem.

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