What to expect for an EMG or nerve conduction study

What is an EMG?
An EMG (electromyography) study tests the electrical activity of a muscle. Your doctor will insert a small disposable needle into your muscle, and may ask you to move or flex the muscle in order to study its movement. You may feel discomfort, achiness, or pain during the study, but it usually fades very quickly once the needle is removed; you may also lose a drop or two of blood when the needle is removed. Your doctor will likely test several muscles.

What is a nerve conduction study?
A nerve conduction study tests how quickly electrical impulses travel to your nerves. Your doctor or technician touches the skin with a small probe in order to send electricity into the nerve. Patients often feel a tingling sensation or “pins and needles,” like when your foot falls asleep. Your doctor or technician may test several different nerves, or different places along the same nerve.

Why do I need an EMG or nerve conduction study?
EMGs and nerve conduction studies help doctors diagnose the cause of numbness, tingling, pain, weakness, or muscle cramping and discover whether your muscles and nerves are working correctly.

How long will it take?
EMGs and nerve conduction studies are often done together. The entire series of tests usually take 60 to 90 minutes.

Will it hurt?
You may feel a tingling sensation during the nerve conduction study, like when your foot falls asleep. The EMG requires that small, disposable needles be inserted into your muscles, and you may feel discomfort or pain when the needle is being inserted or when your muscle moves; this pain usually goes away once your doctor removes the needle. You may have bruises from the EMG needles after the test.

What should I do to prepare?

  • Wear shorts and a short-sleeved shirt the day of the test.
  • Bathe on the day of the exam to remove oil from your skin.
  • Do not use body lotion or oil on your skin on the day of the test or the day before the test.
  • Tell your doctor if you are taking aspirin, blood thinners (like Coumadin), have a pacemaker, or have hemophilia.
  • You may eat, drink, and exercise as you normally do before and after the test.

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