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BLOG - What to expect when you come in for an EMG

Carpal tunnel syndrome, pinched nerves, peripheral neuropathy, and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) are just a few conditions that can contribute to muscle weakness, nerve dysfunction, and pain. While these conditions share some symptoms, they require different treatments. That’s where electromyography (EMG) comes into the picture. EMG can provide information used to pinpoint the source of your symptoms and assess the electrical activity in your muscles. 

If you’re scheduled for an upcoming EMG, you might have questions about your procedure. What will happen? Will it hurt? Below, our neurology specialists at Ventura Neuroscience Center answer these common questions and explain what you can expect when you come into our Oxnard, California office for an EMG.

How to prepare for your EMG

EMG doesn’t require any sedatives, general anesthesia, or anesthetics. Preparation steps are simple and include:

  • Bathing before your appointment (as this removes oil from your skin)
  • Refraining from applying any lotion, cream, serum, or perfume 

EMG might not be right for you if you have any external guidewires (e.g., external pacing wires). Additionally, let us know if you take any blood thinners or pyridostigmine, or if you have hemophilia.

What to expect during an EMG

An EMG is an electrodiagnostic test that helps diagnose and assess nerve dysfunction by looking at the health of your muscles and the nerves that control them. EMG is often performed at the same time as a nerve conduction velocity (NCN). EMG focuses on the electrical activity in your muscles, while NCN focuses on your peripheral nerves. 

Here is what you can expect during your EMG:

  • Relax on the exam table
  • Your provider inserts thin, sterile needles 一 smaller than the needles used for blood draws 一 into specific muscles  
  • Electrodes on the needle detect electrical activity in your muscles at rest 
  • Electrodes on the needle measure the electrical activity in your muscles as they contract
  • Data are sent to an oscilloscope, which is an electronic test instrument that displays electrical voltages in waveforms
  • The graphic waves are printed
  • Your provider then analyzes the printouts 

An EMG typically takes about 60 minutes, but this can vary depending on how many nerves and muscles require testing.

Do EMGs hurt?

This is perhaps one of the most common questions regarding EMG. Although your Ventura Neuroscience Center provider inserts needles into your muscles, know that these muscles are thinner than needles used for blood draws and vaccines. You may feel some discomfort as the needles are inserted into your muscle, but once in place, it shouldn’t hurt. Remember, the goal of an EMG is to test your muscle activity to help you find long-term relief from the conditions that are causing pain.

If you are anxious about the prospect of needles, keep these relaxation strategies in mind:

  • Practice deep breathing, which can help keep your brain out of “flight or fight” mode
  • Practice guided imagery
  • Listen to relaxing music
  • Talk to us! (It can be a pleasant distraction!)

Note: You may hear slight buzzing noises from the EMG machine. 

The goal of EMG

Dysfunctional nerves can cause severe pain, weakness, tingling, numbness, burning sensations, reduced functionality, paresthesia, and even itching. Locating the dysfunctional nerves responsible for these symptoms is the first step in finding relief. In addition to nerve dysfunction, your EMG results can reveal:

  • Muscle dysfunction
  • Issues with signal transmission between your nerve and muscle

Both EMG and NCV tests are vital for diagnosing your condition and shaping the treatment plan.