Abstract

This article is an introduction to electrodiagnosis of the peripheral nervous system, including electromyography, electroneurography (nerve conduction studies), and somatosensory evoked potentials. Electromyography involves the introduction of a special recording needle into a muscle body in search of spontaneous activity (electrical potentials that occur while the muscle is at rest). Three types of spontaneous activity are of greatest relevance: positive sharp waves, fibrillation potentials, and fasciculations. Electromyography can help assess the status of nerve fibers indirectly, but the integrity of large myelinated sensory and motor neurons can be evaluated directly by nerve conduction studies (NCS), also known as electroneurography. NCS involves the introduction of an electrical stimulus, either by surface electrode or needle, and recording an evoked response. NCS can assess motor neurons, sensory neurons, or mixed nerve trunks, depending on the strategy employed. Somatosensory evoked potentials (SSEP) sometimes are useful as an adjunct to EMG and NCS in the diagnosis of peripheral nervous system pathology and are obtained by stimulating a peripheral mixed nerve at a frequency of approximately 2-5 Hz. Several manufacturers have created automated, hand-held units for performing nerve conduction studies, and neuromuscular ultrasound is noninvasive and painless, and ultrasound of nerve entrapment has identified nerve enlargement just proximal to the site of entrapment. Physicians should know or learn the qualifications of the physician to whom they refer their patients for electrodiagnostic assessment.

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