Your Child's Electromyogram and Nerve Conduction Study

Child in hospital bed with woman sitting nearby. Healthcare provider is holding an EMG device against child's forearm.An electromyogram (EMG) and a nerve conduction study (NCS) are tests that check peripheral muscle and nerve function. The tests are usually done together, although sometimes only one test is done. During an NCS, small, round discs with wires (electrodes) are placed on the skin along pathways of certain nerves. The electrodes record how quickly the muscles and nerves respond to an electrical stimulus. During an EMG, small needle electrodes are placed in various muscles in the arms or legs. The electrical activity of the muscles is then recorded as your child rests and tightens the muscles. The tests usually take about 60 minutes.

Before the tests

Follow all instructions given by your child’s healthcare provider to prepare your child for the test. For some children, the healthcare provider may prescribe a mild sedative before the test.

 Let the healthcare provider know

For your safety and best results, tell the healthcare provider if your child:

  • Takes any medicines, especially aspirin or blood thinning medicines

  • Has any health problems, most specifically if your child has a pacemaker. This does not mean that the test shouldn't be done, but it should be cleared with your cardiologist before beginning the exam.

During the tests

An EMG and NCS are usually performed by a trained technologist or healthcare provider. You can stay in the room with your child. Your child may bring along a favorite toy, such as a stuffed animal, for comfort.

  • Your child changes into a hospital gown and lies on a hospital bed.

  • An NCS is most often done first. During an NCS:

    • The technologist cleanses the skin in the areas being tested.

    • Then, the sterile electrodes are placed on the skin. In some cases, gel, glue, or paste is first applied to the skin to help keep the electrodes in place.

    • The technologist controls a stimulator, which sends mild electrical currents to certain electrodes. The electrical currents are safe, but there could be some minor discomfort. They are used to stimulate the nerves under the electrodes. This may cause the muscles in these areas to twitch or tingle.

    • The electrical activity of the nerves is then recorded.

  • Once the NCS is complete, the EMG begins. During an EMG:

    • The technologist cleanses the skin in the areas being tested.

    • Sterile needle electrodes are then placed into the muscles of these areas. When the needle electrode is inserted, your child may feel as though he or she is being pinched.  

    • Your child is asked to relax. This is so the technologist can record the electrical activity of the muscles at rest.

    • Then your child is asked to tighten the muscles. This is so the technologist can record the electrical activity of the muscles when they are active.

    • The needle electrodes may be moved several times to test the electrical activity in different muscle areas. Once the EMG is complete, they are removed.

After the tests

Here is what you can expect: 

  • Your child can go back to his or her normal routine after the test.

  • Schedule a follow-up appointment with your child’s healthcare provider to review the results of the test.

Helping your child prepare

Many hospitals have people trained in helping children cope with their medical care or hospital experience. These people are often called child life specialists. Check with your child’s healthcare provider if child life programs or other similar services are available for your child. There are also things you can do to help your child prepare for a test or procedure. How best to do this depends on your child’s needs. Start with the tips below:

  • Use brief and simple terms to describe the test to your child and why it’s being done. Younger children tend to have a short attention span, so do this shortly before the test. Older children can be given more details and time to understand the test in advance.

  • Tell your child what to expect in the hospital during the test. For instance, you could mention who will be performing the test and what the room will look like where the procedure will take place.

  • Make sure your child understands which body parts will be involved in the test.

  • As best you can, describe how the test will feel. For instance, an electrode may be placed on the skin. The electrode is round and may feel sticky.

  • Allow your child to ask questions and answer these questions truthfully. Your child may feel nervous or afraid. He or she may even cry. Let your child know that you’ll be nearby during the test.

  • Use play when telling your child about the test, if appropriate. With younger children, this can involve role-playing with a child’s favorite toy or object. With older children, it may help to read books or show pictures of what happens during the test.