Electromyography (EMG) / Nerve Conduction Velocity (NCV)

We utilize EMG / NCV studies to pinpoint the source of our patients pain when needed. This allows us to quickly target appropriate treatment options for maximum efficacy.

What is Electromyography (EMG) / Nerve Conduction Velocity (NCV)?

An EMG (Electromyography) and NCV (Nerve Conduction Velocity) study are diagnostic tests used to assess the health of muscles and the nerve cells that control them (motor neurons). These tests are often performed together to evaluate and diagnose conditions affecting the muscles and nerves.

EMG (Electromyography):  EMG measures the electrical activity of muscles at rest and during contraction. During the test, a needle electrode is inserted through the skin into the muscle. The electrical activity detected by this electrode is displayed on a monitor in the form of waves. An EMG can detect abnormalities in the electrical activity of muscle that can occur in various diseases and conditions, including muscular dystrophy, nerve disorders, and conditions affecting the connection between the nerve and the muscle.

NCV (Nerve Conduction Velocity):  NCV measures how fast an electrical impulse moves through a nerve. For this test, flat electrodes are placed on the skin along the path of the nerve. A mild electrical impulse is sent through the nerve to measure the speed and strength of nerve signals. A slower than normal conduction velocity suggests that the nerve may be damaged. This test helps to identify nerve damage or dysfunction and can pinpoint the location of abnormalities along the nerve.

Together, EMG and NCV studies provide comprehensive information about the functioning of muscles and nerves. These tests are valuable in diagnosing disorders such as peripheral neuropathy, carpal tunnel syndrome, radiculopathies, sciatica, and more. They help in determining the nature and extent of nerve and muscle damage, guiding treatment decisions for a range of neuromuscular conditions.

What are the benefits and risks of an EMG or NCV?

EMG / NCV studies have relatively low risks with significant benefits:


  • Diagnostic Clarity: EMG and NCV tests provide valuable diagnostic information that can help identify the cause of symptoms such as muscle weakness, numbness, pain, or abnormal sensations. They can differentiate between muscle conditions and nerve disorders, aiding in the accurate diagnosis of conditions like peripheral neuropathy, radiculopathies, and muscle diseases.
  • Guided Treatment: By pinpointing the specific nature and location of a neuromuscular issue, these tests can guide effective treatment strategies, including physical therapy, medications, or surgical interventions, tailored to the patient's specific diagnosis.
  • Non-Invasive NCV: The NCV test is non-invasive with minimal discomfort, providing critical information about the health and function of peripheral nerves.
  • Minimal Preparation Required: Both tests require little to no special preparation, making them accessible and convenient diagnostic tools.
  • Quick Results: The results of EMG and NCV studies are often available immediately or shortly after the test, facilitating prompt diagnosis and treatment planning.


  • Discomfort or Pain: The EMG test can be uncomfortable, as it involves inserting a needle electrode into the muscle. Patients may experience temporary soreness or bruising at the needle insertion sites.
  • Nerve Discomfort: During an NCV test, the electrical impulses used to stimulate the nerve can cause a brief, uncomfortable sensation, similar to a shock from static electricity.
  • Risk of Bleeding or Infection: Although rare, there is a small risk of bleeding or infection at the site of needle insertion for the EMG.
  • Contraindications: Certain conditions, such as blood clotting disorders or infections at the test site, may increase the risk of complications and should be discussed with the healthcare provider before the test.
  • Limited Interpretation in Isolation: The interpretation of EMG and NCV results can be complex and may need to be considered alongside other diagnostic tests and clinical findings for a comprehensive evaluation.

Overall, while EMG and NCV tests are valuable tools for diagnosing neuromuscular disorders, understanding the potential discomfort and risks associated with these procedures is important. However, for many patients, the benefits of obtaining an accurate diagnosis and guiding effective treatment far outweigh these risks.

Who is a good candidate for an EMG or NCV?

Good candidates for an EMG (Electromyography) or NCV (Nerve Conduction Velocity) test are individuals who exhibit symptoms suggesting a neuromuscular disorder or nerve damage. These tests are particularly useful for diagnosing conditions affecting the muscles, nerves, or the neuromuscular junction. Indications for these diagnostic procedures include:

  • Muscle Weakness: Unexplained muscle weakness that does not improve with rest or is not attributed to a specific cause could indicate an underlying neuromuscular disorder.
  • Numbness or Tingling: Persistent numbness, tingling, or the sensation of "pins and needles" in the limbs may suggest nerve damage or dysfunction.
  • Muscle Pain or Cramping: Chronic muscle pain or cramping, especially if it's not related to overuse or physical injury, can be a sign of a neuromuscular condition.
  • Symptoms of Peripheral Neuropathy: Patients exhibiting signs of peripheral neuropathy, such as sensory changes or loss of reflexes in the limbs, are candidates for NCV testing.
  • Signs of Nerve Compression or Entrapment: Conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome or cubital tunnel syndrome, where a nerve is compressed or entrapped, often require NCV studies for confirmation.
  • Motor Function Issues: Difficulty with motor functions, such as walking, grasping objects, or coordinating movements, can indicate a problem with nerves or muscles.
  • Unexplained Physical Symptoms: Symptoms like drooping eyelids, double vision, or difficulty swallowing, which might indicate conditions like myasthenia gravis or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), warrant an EMG test.
  • Monitoring Disease Progression: In patients with diagnosed neuromuscular disorders, EMG and NCV can be used to monitor disease progression or response to treatment.

If you havethese symptoms or conditions, consult with us to determine if an EMG or NCV test is appropriate for your situation. These tests can provide critical insights into the health of your muscles and nerves, guiding diagnosis and treatment decisions.

How is an EMG or NCV performed?

An EMG (Electromyography) and NCV (Nerve Conduction Velocity) test are typically performed together to evaluate the health of muscles and nerves. Here's how each test is conducted:

EMG (Electromyography)

  • Preparation: The skin over the testing area is cleaned. Patients are usually asked to relax their muscles.
  • Needle Insertion: A small, thin needle (electrode) is inserted into the muscle to be tested. Multiple muscles may be tested during the procedure to get a comprehensive understanding of the muscle's electrical activity.
  • Muscle Activity Measurement: The electrical activity in the muscle is measured at rest and during contraction. The patient may be asked to contract the muscle, for example, by bending their arm or leg. The electrical signals are displayed on a monitor and may also be heard through a speaker.
  • Analysis: The pattern and size of the electrical signals provide information about the muscle's response to nerve stimulation.

NCV (Nerve Conduction Velocity)

  • Preparation: The patient is made comfortable in a position that allows easy access to the nerve(s) being tested. The skin over the nerve is cleaned.
  • Electrode Placement: Surface electrodes are attached to the skin along the path of the nerve. One electrode stimulates the nerve with a mild electrical impulse, while other electrodes capture the electrical activity.
  • Stimulation and Measurement: The stimulating electrode sends small electrical pulses (which feel like quick, electrical shocks) to stimulate the nerve. The resulting electrical activity is recorded by the other electrodes. The speed (velocity) and strength of the nerve signal traveling between electrodes are measured.
  • Multiple Nerves: The procedure may be repeated for different nerves to obtain a comprehensive assessment of nerve function.

We perform these tests in our pain clinics.  They usually take 30 minutes to 1 hour to complete, depending on the number of muscles and nerves being tested. The EMG test might cause some discomfort or pain when the needle electrodes are inserted, but this is typically brief. The NCV test can cause a tingling or spasm sensation when the electrical impulses are applied, but it is generally well tolerated. These tests are valuable diagnostic tools that help in identifying neuromuscular disorders, guiding treatment planning, and monitoring disease progression.

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