Electromyography: do the diagnostic ends justify the means?

Arch Phys Med Rehabil. 1995 Oct;76(10):947-9. doi: 10.1016/s0003-9993(95)80072-7.


Background: Physicians are sometimes reluctant to refer patients for electrodiagnostic studies (electromyography with nerve conduction studies [EMG/NCS]) believing the test is too painful and of little benefit.

Methods: We performed two separate surveys on 126 and 100 consecutive patients referred to our laboratory to determine if EMG/NCS was beneficial to the referring physician and to compare the level of anxiety experienced by patients before the study with the pain actually experienced during the study.

Results: The electrodiagnosis was discordant from the referring diagnosis in 39% of the patients with an abnormal EMG/NCS. Pretest anxiety levels were low in 59% of the patients, medium in 27%, and high in 14%. After the tests, 82% of the patients said that the test was not as bad as expected, and was generally only mildly painful. Ninety-three responded that they would have the test performed again.

Conclusions: EMG/NCS often suggest alternative diagnoses, and the actual pain experienced during an EMG/NCS study is significantly less than expected.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Anxiety
  • Electromyography*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neural Conduction*
  • Pain
  • Patient Acceptance of Health Care*
  • Predictive Value of Tests