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Study Compares Tools to Diagnose Back Trouble

Older test called the electromyogram may be better than standard MRI

MONDAY, Dec. 26, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A test called the electromyogram (EMG) is better than MRI at accurately diagnosing spinal stenosis, a narrowing of spaces in the spine that causes pressure on the spinal cord and nerves, researchers report.

Spinal stenosis can result in debilitating back pain or paralysis if left untreated.

EMG was developed during World War II but, until now, there have been no controlled studies of EMG for spinal stenosis. For their study, researchers at the University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor, used EMG to examine 150 back pain patients.

They found that EMG can reduce misdiagnosis of low back pain and other common neuromuscular conditions that cause similar symptoms. More accurate diagnosis can help avoid unnecessary back surgery.

The study authors concluded that EMG is the only way to prevent misdiagnosis, and that MRI should not be used as the only proof that a person has spinal stenosis. The study appears in this month's issue of Spine.

"EMG plays an important role in the diagnosis of back pain because, unlike MRI, EMG is more than a picture of a nerve, it can test nerve function and show if there is actual nerve damage," study author Dr. Andrew Haig, an associate professor in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation, said in a prepared statement.

"The EMG is really going to help doctors to avoid unnecessary procedures because it proves that there is nerve damage in the people who clearly have it and can accurately diagnosis spinal stenosis," Haig said.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases has more about spinal stenosis.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, Dec. 12, 2005
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