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Nerve conduction and electromyography studies

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Nerve conduction studies (NCS) and electromyography (EMG), often shortened to ‘EMGs’, are a useful adjunct to clinical examination of the peripheral nervous system and striated skeletal muscle. NCS provide an efficient and rapid method of quantifying nerve conduction velocity (CV) and the amplitude of both sensory nerve action potentials (SNAPs) and compound motor action potentials (cMAPs). The CV reflects speed of propagation of action potentials, by saltatory conduction, along large myelinated axons in a peripheral nerve. The amplitude of SNAPs is in part determined by the number of axons in a sensory nerve, whilst amplitude of cMAPs reflects integrated function of the motor axons, neuromuscular junction and striated muscle. Repetitive nerve stimulation (RNS) can identify defects of neuromuscular junction (NMJ) transmission, pre- or post-synaptic. Needle EMG examination can detect myopathic changes in muscle and signs of denervation. Combinations of these procedures can establish if motor and/or sensory nerve cell bodies or peripheral nerves are damaged (e.g. motor neuronopathy, sensory ganglionopathy or neuropathy), and also indicate if the primary target is the axon or the myelin sheath (i.e. axonal or demyelinating neuropathies). The distribution of nerve damage can be determined as either generalised, multifocal (mononeuropathy multiplex) or focal. The latter often due to compression at the common entrapment sites (such as the carpal tunnel, Guyon’s canal, cubital tunnel, radial groove, fibular head and tarsal tunnel, to name but a few of the reported hundred or so ‘entrapment neuropathies’).

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Correspondence to N. M. Kane.

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Kane, N.M., Oware, A. Nerve conduction and electromyography studies. J Neurol 259, 1502–1508 (2012).

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