Is it Arthritis or Nerve Damage? An EMG Test Might be Able to Tell You.

When you are dealing with pain in your back, arms, legs, hands, and feet, it might not always be clear as to why that pain is happening. Arthritis and nerve pain are both common sources of discomfort, but they stem from quite different causes.

Arthritis primarily results from inflammation and degradation of joints. People who suffer from arthritis describe the pain as a chronic ache or stiffness in the joints that may be accompanied by swelling. Nerve pain, or neuropathy, arises from damage to the nervous system and can cause a sharp, burning, or tingling sensation. Understanding the differences between these two types of pain is critical for proper diagnosis and treatment.

If you are experiencing pain that is sharp or has burning or tingling in your extremities, an electromyography (EMG test) might help narrow down what is causing that pain.

“EMG is a test to look at the electrical activity of your nerves and muscles,” said Michael Andary, MD, MSU Health Care who performs electrodiagnostic testing at McLaren Greater Lansing’s EMG Clinic. “There are two aspects of the test. The first is we see how nerves conduct electricity; there are small shocks to the nerves and record the responses and see how fast the nerve is, how many are there, and we can estimate how many are injured.”

The second test that can be performed is a needle EMG, which uses an electrode (needle) and puts it into the muscle. If the nerve is dead, muscles act funny electrically, and the needle EMG test can determine where the normal and damaged nerves are, helping the provider diagnose the condition.

“The test results can help your doctor determine the best treatment options for you,” said Dr. Andary. “If the nerve is dead, it may push your doctor to be more aggressive in treating.”

Many conditions are diagnosed by using an EMG test, including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), carpal tunnel syndrome, muscular dystrophy, radial and sciatica nerve dysfunction, Myasthenia Gravis, and peripheral neuropathy to name a few.

When choosing where to get an EMG test performed, it’s important to choose a reputable lab. McLaren Greater Lansing received Laboratory Accreditation with Exemplary status from the American Association of Neuromuscular & Electrodiagnostic Medicine (AANEM).

The AANEM established laboratory accreditation criteria for electrodiagnostic (EDX) laboratories to ensure patients receive quality medical care in a safe environment. Laboratory accreditation provides patients, referral sources, and payers with a credible measure to differentiate the laboratory’s quality of care. The accreditation standards evaluate the diagnostic services and clinical operations essential to providing quality patient care, which include:

  • Clinical staff qualifications and continuing education
  • Physical facilities
  • EDX equipment
  • Protocols for performing EDX studies
  • Patient reports
  • Policies for ensuring the health and safety of every patient

“We are proud of our recent accreditation and all of the hard work that especially Marcy Schlinger, DO, put into working towards getting accredited,” said Dr. Andary. “You can’t just have physicians. It’s important to have quality support staff too, and we have that here.”

For more information about the EMG clinic at McLaren Greater Lansing, click here.