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What is EMG Biofeedback?

By Kiran Puri
Updated May 17, 2024
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EMG biofeedback (electromyograph biofeedback) is the process in which the muscle activity of a person is recorded through electronic devices while also allowing the patient to see or hear this activity. By linking together medical testing with a patient’s cognitive awareness of how and when his or her muscles react to different stimuli, doctors and researchers hope that patients can learn how to control and strengthen muscles that act abnormally due to disease or injury. The process is most commonly used to treat diseases such as anxiety, spinal cord injures, multiple sclerosis (MS), and other ailments that preclude an individual from having sufficient muscle control.

The procedure involves placing surface electronic sensors over a patient’s muscles. These sensors detect activity in the skeletal muscles, which are those closest to the bones. That data is then transmitted back to the feedback machine. The doctors record the movement of the muscles that are acting abnormally as well as those that are healthy in order to compare the different behavior. The electric sensors will also track the electrical activity of both sets of muscles when they are at rest. The report that results is known as an electromyogram.

While the test is being conducted, the patient will be able to watch or listen to how the muscles are or aren't working. They are typically asked to pay closest attention to how their muscles respond to stress, anxiety, or tension. Doing this may help the patient learn how adapt his or her behavior to avoid abnormal muscle behavior. Most often, EMG biofeedback is offered in conjunction with physical therapy to help the patient have more control over and strengthen their muscles.

Intramuscular EMG testing is another type of test that is somewhat similar to EMG biofeedback. In this particular test, thin needles are inserted into the patient to track electric activity in muscles. The intramuscular EMG test, however, does not incorporate the cognitive element of surface EMG biofeedback. That is, patients do not get immediate feedback on how their muscles respond to stress.

EMG biofeedback is usually employed to thoroughly diagnose and treat neurological, neuromuscular, and stress-related problems, such as multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s disease, spinal cord injuries, anxiety, and chronic migraines. The procedure is also used in research laboratories that study biomechanics, motor control, neuromuscular physiology, movement disorders, and physical therapy. Intramuscular EMG testing, however, is usually more helpful in these departments than surface EMG biofeedback.

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Discussion Comments
By literally45 — On May 31, 2014

I had an intramuscular EMG test last month. I had a back spasm which led to numbness and poor coordination in both legs. The EMG test was required to see the damage to nerves. Thankfully, there isn't much damage.

The procedure was not difficult but it was painful at one point when the doctor was moving the needle in my leg muscles. After inserting the needle into the calves and moving the needles, she asked me to push with my foot which was painful.

I've never had an EMG biofeedback test though.

By fify — On May 31, 2014

@fBoyle-- Have you asked your doctor? I think it might help, especially if the tension is causing injury or pain. EMG biofeedback is usually used in severe cases as far as I know.

My uncle received EMG biofeedback therapy after a stroke. He developed paralysis as a result and EMG biofeedback therapy was one of the therapies his doctors used in his treatment. EMG helped identify any electronic activity in paralyzed limbs and helps the patient encourage that activity. So it can improve circulation and help with rehabilitation.

By fBoyle — On May 30, 2014

I have spinal disc hernia that causes problems whenever I'm stressed or worried. Can EMG biofeedback help me?

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