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What Is EMG?

EMG is the common abbreviation for electromyography. The “myo” part means muscle, so EMG means “electrical muscle writing” – where the electrical signal recorded from a muscle is made to write patterns on a video screen.

What Is The EMG Clinic?

Our EMG service consists of three clinic rooms, each containing an electromyograph – a complex apparatus used for diagnosing problems in muscles and nerves.

To be referred to our service, you would typically show signs or symptoms of nerve or muscle problems consisting of numbness, tingling, pain, weakness, or some combination of these. Such symptoms can have many causes, and it is the role of EMG to find evidence of nerve or muscle damage and to provide a diagnosis to the physician who referred you here, so that appropriate treatment can be given.

In our practice, the most common diagnosis is a single “pinched nerve”, for example at the wrist (carpal tunnel syndrome) or perhaps in the neck or the lower back. We also often test people who have more widespread symptoms due to a problem with the nerves in general – quite common in diabetes for example. Sometimes we find one of the rare disorders such as ALS. Often our EMG test results show nothing abnormal, or the test results might point to a diagnosis quite different from that suggested by the physician who sent you, so EMG might spare you unnecessary or inappropriate treatments.

Aside from providing this primary service to the public, our clinic also plays a key role in training Residents: these are doctors studying to become physiatrists (specialists in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation). We also introduce University of Ottawa medical students to EMG, we provide facilities for our doctors to conduct research in this field, and we participate in regional EMG teaching and review courses

Who Are The Members Of The EMG Clinic?

The service is currently staffed by eight physicians (all physiatrists), one full-time registered EMG technologist with many years of experience, and a full-time secretary.

How Are Clients Referred To The Clinic?

Clients are referred from a wide area of eastern Ontario and western Quebec by family physicians or by specialists (rheumatologists, orthopedic and plastic surgeons, neurologists, other physiatrists).

How Is An EMG Test Done?

An EMG test is usually done in two parts. First is the nerve conduction study, done by an experienced technologist who sticks recording electrodes to the skin near a specific muscle or nerve, then applies an electrical stimulus to the skin at one or more sites along the course of the nerve. An electrician might use a similar procedure when testing an electric circuit – putting a signal in one end of the wire and measuring what comes out the other end. The EMG machine shows the electrical response of the nerve or muscle on a computer monitor, giving an immediate indication of the health of that nerve.

The second part of the test – if judged necessary – is needle EMG. This part is done by the physician and does not involve electric stimulation. Instead, an electrode resembling an acupuncture pin is inserted into muscle tissue where it acts as an antenna for recording electrical activity. Nerve and muscle diseases alter the pattern of electrical activity in muscles.

How Long Does It Take to Do an EMG Test?

At our clinic, the physician will typically examine you and take a full medical history prior to testing, in order to decide which tests are necessary. The number of nerves and muscles tested will depend on your symptoms, and also on the results emerging from the nerves and muscles already tested. Finally, the physician will discuss the results and treatment options with you. The entire session lasts on average about 45 minutes – less for simple cases, more for complex.

Does The Test Hurt?

The tests are uncomfortable, but almost everyone tolerates them quite well. The electrical stimulation causes some discomfort, similar to that odd feeling you get in your little finger when you tap your “funny bone” at the elbow. The needle electrode also causes some discomfort, although it should be less painful than an injection because first, nothing is being injected and second, our needles are very finely tapered and are Teflon© coated. Note also that the needles are single-use: each client gets a new one to eliminate the possibility of transmitting infections. After-effects of the testing may include some tenderness or slight bruising in the muscles that were examined by needle, and will not affect your walking, driving or any of your other usual activities.

How Does A Client Prepare For An EMG?

Eat normally and take your usual medications. Very few medications will affect the tests, but you should tell the EMG doctor if you are taking aspirin or blood thinners (like Coumadin®), or if you have a form of hemophilia, because these might promote bleeding during the needle-EMG study. Speaking of your medications, please bring a list of their names and dosages to complete the medical history.

If symptoms are in the legs, some clients prefer to bring along a pair of shorts rather than to change into one of our hospital gowns. If symptoms are in the hands or arms, it is helpful if your sleeves are short or easily rolled up. Electrical stimulation and recording is improved if the skin is as clean as possible: please do NOT apply oily skin lotions prior to testing because oil is an excellent insulator and will interfere with the tests, and prolong your discomfort. Out of consideration for hospital staff and other patients who may have allergies, please do not use perfume, cologne, after-shave or other fragrances on the day of your tests.

How Long Does it Take to Receive The Results?

The results will be explained to you at the end of the tests. After you leave, a complete report will be dictated but it may take two or more weeks to reach the physician who sent you. If you have an appointment before then, ask for a preliminary handwritten summary either to take with you or to be faxed to your physician.

Where Is The EMG Clinic?

The Clinic is located on the second floor of The Ottawa Hospital, General Campus, Module Q. At the clinic, a receptionist will take your card and offer you a seat in the waiting room. There is reading material, but the wait is seldom long enough for you to enjoy it.

How Can A Client Contact The EMG Clinic?

For more information, the clinic is open Monday to Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Telephone 613-737-7350 ext. 75591 (secretary), or ext. 75577 (technologist).

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