Intraoperative electromyography can provide useful information regarding lumbosacral nerve root function during thoracolumbar spinal surgery. Free-running electromyography provides continuous feedback regarding the location and potential for surgical injury to the lumbosacral nerve roots within the operative field. Stimulus-evoked electromyography can confirm that transpedicular instrumentation has been positioned correctly within the bony cortex.
However, electromyography has a number of potential limitations, which are discussed in this article along with improved methods to increase the overall efficacy of intraoperative electromyography, including: 1) Electromyography is sensitive to blunt lumbosacral nerve root irritation or injury, but may provide misleading results with "clean" nerve root transection. 2) Electromyography must be recorded from muscles belonging to myotomes appropriate for the nerve roots considered at risk from surgery. 3) Electromyography can be effective only with careful monitoring and titration of pharmacologic neuromuscular junction blockade. 4) When transpedicular instrumentation is stimulated, an exposed nerve root should be stimulated directly as a positive control whenever possible. 5) Pedicle holes and screws should be stimulated with single shocks at low-stimulus intensities when pharmacologic neuromuscular blockade is excessive. 6) Chronically compressed nerve roots that have undergone axonotmesis (wallerian degeneration) have higher thresholds for activation from electrical and mechanical stimulation. 7) Hence, whenever axonotmetic nerve root injury is suspected, the stimulus thresholds for transpedicular holes and screws must be specifically compared with those required for the direct activation of the adjacent nerve root (and not published guideline threshold values).