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Can EMG/Nerve tests diffferentiate between cord compression and nerve root compression???

jellyhalljjellyhall Posts: 4,373
edited 06/11/2012 - 8:55 AM in Spinal Stenosis

Has anyone been told after their EMG and nerve conduction studies, what type of compression they have; spinal cord or nerve root?

I was told by the neurologist that I have cervical compression, but not what exactly is being compressed. My MRI scan showed some cord compression, so I am interested to know if the test results showed compression of the cord or of the nerve roots. :?

I am not even sure that the tests can tell the difference, but if anyone here has been told what is being compressed, then I assume that the tests can differentiate.




  • I am still wondering if EMG and nerve tests can tell the difference between compression on the cord and compression on the nerve roots.

    Has anyone been told what type of compression they have?

    I guess even if you are told that there is compression on the nerve roots, that may indicate that they can tell the difference.

    What results have others been given after these tests?

    Comments anyone? Please >:D< >:D< >:D<

  • It showed there was a nerve compression at L4-L5 but since I didn't finish the first test and they have lost EMG results from my second, I'm going for another EMG test on my leg to see if it's caused by my back or from an entrapped nerve elsewhere in the leg.

    I think they use the MRI to more find the compressed nerve in the spine and may also order a discogram to pinpoint the offending disc. I hope someone else can help if they have had positive EMG/nerve test results and what was done after. Charry
    DDD of lumbar spine with sciatica to left hip,leg and foot. L4-L5 posterior disc bulge with prominent facets, L5-S1 prominent facets with a posterior osteocartilaginous bar. Mild bilateral foraminal narrowing c-spine c4-c7 RN

  • I was already pretty sure that I have compression in my neck - I think it is both nerve root and on the cord as the MRI shows that. What I am really wondering is what is causing the symptoms in my legs.

    The EMG neurologist said he thought it was from my neck, but I have probems in my neck, thoracic and lumbar spine, so it could be from anywhere. I had hoped to have this testing on my legs too, and was amazed when I was told that my neurosurgeon hadn't ask for my legs to be tested too.

    I hope that I will get a better idea when I see my neurosurgeon in October.

    I feel like I am a puzzle and it is taking a very long time to gather the pieces together to build up a picture of what is going on. They are collecting the pieces one at a time and it seems that there are months in between each piece.

    I always thought I was a patient person, but now I am not so sure!!

  • Howdy Jelly,

    The EMG's can isolate if it is a root or the cord. The cord most times would be a bilateral affect, where as a root of course only one side.

    My last EMG nailed mine to C5-8 level issues vs a year ago the narrative stated nerve roots being the issue. Hope that helps. Oh, and these EMG's were taken at the same facility.

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.

  • I have bilateral pain and symptoms in my arms and legs. It is so frustrating that they didn't test my legs to see where the compression is that is causing the symptoms there.

    I also get daily tightening and spasms around my chest at about bra strap level or slightly lower. I wonder if that is being caused by my thoracic spine. Hopefully, I should be having a full spine MRI scan within the next month.

    It is really hard to find all the pieces to my complicated puzzle.

    How are you getting on Brenda? Still an ex-smoker? Getting all set for your surgery.

    11th October is a big day around the world!!
    Possible surgery for you! :SS
    Appointment with the neurosurgeon for me! :S
    And my daughter's baby is due that day! :''(

    >:D< >:D< >:D<

  • I too have the neuropathy around my ribcage (at the bra strap level). I have a full spine EMG/NCS and the paraspinal muscles at T8/9/10 showed nerve affect issues. I have DDD and bone spurs there - painful yes, but not on the "surgical interest" yet...(G)

    I hope they find answers for you soon between the MRI's and electrical studies. It's a mix I've found between the puzzle pieces to find if you are cord/roots and how bad. After this present surgeon studies my EMG's, MRI's, X-rays and did a physical on me to include adding my leg issues. He feels it is more likely than not, I have developed myelopathy thanks to the cord getting constantly banged on (C5-8 levels) due to the instability. A small piece of me had a feeling that was coming...(G)

    Nope, still an ex-smoker, and getting easier each day - now in week 4. See my surgeon this Friday to confirm the game plan. Almost done with the pre-op physical clearance items.

    Wow, the 11th seems awful busy there woman!! Stick with me Jelly, we get it done for sure!!! *HUGZ*

    PCTF C4 - T2, Laminectomies C5, C6 & C7. Severe Palsy left arm/hand.
  • I was having pain going to my bra strap area also and I had thoracic x-rays and all is find with me but my Dr. says it's from my C-spine at C5-c7 and C6-7 is where nerve is impinging. Do you have lower back pain at all? Charry

    PS sorry didn't realize you've had lumbar surgery and thoracic issues! I remember your lumbar surgery oh it's so late wow.
    DDD of lumbar spine with sciatica to left hip,leg and foot. L4-L5 posterior disc bulge with prominent facets, L5-S1 prominent facets with a posterior osteocartilaginous bar. Mild bilateral foraminal narrowing c-spine c4-c7 RN
  • I've had two EMGs. FIrst was done on just the one arm. Second was primarily on the one arm but he did a few spots on the other. I never did get a good explanation of what they showed. From what I can tell the vascular surgeon will be doing more EMGs and other tests on the neck and shoulder area (ugh) to look for thoracic outlet syndrome. Maybe this time I will get some more answers.

  • dilaurodilauro ConnecticutPosts: 9,862

    I've talked to a number of doctors and others that conduct EMG tests. They were taken back a bit. It was because what is the difference between nerve and cord root compression? The test will indicate where the nerve problem is and where it originated from.

    Perhaps I did not explain this enough to get a more detailed answer. I am sorry.

    Have you gotten any other medical feedback?
    Ron DiLauro Spine-Health System Administrator
    I am not a medical professional. I comment on personal experiences
    You can email me at: rdilauro@veritashealth.com
  • for taking the time to discuss and think about my question :-)

    I have been told from my cervical MRI scan that I have spondylosis throughout my neck. The levels of C3/4 and C4/5 have compression on the spinal cord from discs and osteophytes. There was no high signal on the MRI scan when it was done last October.

    I don't have Babinski reflex or Conus. However, I do have some sort of spasticity in my legs, which I believe is why the EMG and nerve conduction tests were done.

    The neurologist who did the nerve tests said I definately do have compression in my neck, but not at either wrist or elbow.

    Now, from my symptoms, I believe that I have radiculopathy in my arms from nerve root compression at several levels, but I am wondering if the symptoms that I am getting in my legs and feet are being caused by the compression on my actual spinal cord in my neck.

    As I was told after an x-ray nearly 3 years ago, that I have osteophytes on my thoracic vertebrae and over 2 years ago an MRI scan showed that there were 3 protruding discs at that level, with one disc mildly indenting the cord, it is possible that these symptoms could be coming from my thoracic spine.

    On the other hand, as I had degenerated discs above and below the level that was fused 18 months ago, it is possible that the leg and feet symptoms could be coming from the lumbar spine.

    The neurologist who did the EMG testing in my arms did say that he thought that my leg symptoms could be coming from my neck, so perhaps he saw results that could indicate that there was compression on the cord being shown.

    My appointment with the neurosurgeon has been brought foward to 11th October, so I am really hoping that I will get some answers from him. Frustrating that my legs weren't tested during the EMG tests, as that would probably have given an idea of what is causing all the pains, twitches, cramps and spasming that I get there.

    I had thought that someone here might have been told as a result of their EMG tests that they had spinal cord compression, rather than just nerve root compression.

    Am I correct in thinking that if it is my neck causing my leg and feet symptoms, that means that it is from cord compression and indicates myelopathy?

  • Maybe if you think you have Cervical Myelopathy could be diagnosised with a cervical myelogram. Write down the usual questions when you do a search for -what questions to ask the Surgeon and ask him what he thinks about cervical myelopathy causing your leg symptoms since the Neurologist said maybe your neck is causing the leg symptoms. Did your Dr. ask what the Neurologist said to you?

    Actually have been reading about this for myself also as I have stiff legs on both sides now instead of just the one so that's why I went to the Sports Med Dr. and will mention to my Dr. also and wanted the MRI of lumbar but then my Sports Dr. said I need to know why you're having sciatica and have to pinpoint where the nerve compression is coming from so maybe she was thinking the same lines? I hope your Neurosurgeon is very thorough. Charry
    DDD of lumbar spine with sciatica to left hip,leg and foot. L4-L5 posterior disc bulge with prominent facets, L5-S1 prominent facets with a posterior osteocartilaginous bar. Mild bilateral foraminal narrowing c-spine c4-c7 RN

  • After reading your post, I have started a list of questions to ask my neurosurgeon when I see him.

    I haven't seen a doctor since having my EMG and nerve tests done. I have an appointment next week with my GP and will ask if she has heard anything, but I suspect I won't get any information until I see the neurosurgeon and after that appointment he will write to my GP to inform her how things are progressing.

    I am hoping that once I have the full spine MRI done that will give some ideas of where the compression is. However, I have a feeling that it will be evident at the cervical and thoracic levels and possibly there is some left after my laminectomy and fusion in my lumbar spine, in which case, how do they decide which level is causing the problems? I have also been told that I have a genetically small spinal canal, so that could also be a factor.

    I had really hoped that the EMG tests would give the answer to that.

    I also hope that my neurosurgeon is very thorough, but when I saw him last time, he didn't do all the neurological tests that you read about. He is known to be very good though, so I trust that he didn't need to do them.

  • It has been my experience with EMG's /NCV tests that once they identify the problems, they don't need to go further with the testing. The reason for that as it was explained to me, was that everything from that level down is effected so going down further isn't necessary because the information collected during the NCV part of the test shows how damaged the nerve is. Bilateral problems can show different NCV results.
    I've had at least 4 so far, and they have been both cervical and lumbar . And my last one included SSEP testing as well.
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