Seeing is believing, and nowhere is this more true than with surface electromyography, or sEMG. Using colorful graphics that “show” the muscular component of vertebral subluxation, sEMG helps make spinal misalignment “real” for patients, while also demonstrating the effectiveness of the treatment plan.

More than just a diagnostic tool, sEMG measures the electrical activity that muscles release when contracting, while also identifying and addressing spinal misalignments in the patient. This is because when there is spinal misalignment, the muscles tend to brace themselves, causing problems with the nerves that affect the entire body. The severity of this muscle tension can be identified, and help you and the patient keep track of progress.

Generating what is known as a torso graph, sEMG creates readings in varying colors that indicate normal, borderline and abnormal states – indications for the presence of a subluxation. The DC then has a visual roadmap from which to perform a chiropractic adjustment, of which the effect is clearly demonstrated because the sEMG will indicate a more normal, balanced pattern. When the patient sees this, they know that progress is being made.

Additionally, abnormal nervous system function, usually not identified by MRI or X-ray, can be detected with the non-invasive sEMG. As sEMG is a visual tool, it lets you know if a particular adjustment isn’t effective for the patient, allowing you to use an alternative technique.

Using an sEMG is simple and comfortable for the patient. Small probes are placed against the patient’s skin that identify and record any abnormal state. This data then allows the DC to determine which areas of the nervous system are being affected by a vertebral subluxation. Acting like a window into the muscular aspects of the vertebral subluxation, the sEMG allows the DC to effectively treat the misalignment and bring the patient back to optimal health.

sEMG is not without research that supports its use. In a study conducted by Shambaugh, surface electrodes were utilized to measure paraspinal EMG activity before and after chiropractic adjustment. It was concluded by Shambaugh that, “Results of this study show that significant changes in muscle electrical activity occur as a consequence of adjusting.” 1

sEMG also appears to hold-up well in court. Houts and Marmor noted in their test “Proving Medical Diagnosis and Prognosis,” that, “Properly used, the EMG scanning technique is far more persuasive in the courtroom than is a report of needle EMG. You can present the jury with mathematical, tangible physical evidence which they can see.”

Subsequently, a memo that supported the admission of EMG muscle scans was filed in a Washington State superior court that stated, “There is no legal basis for the exclusion of the EMG muscle scan when a proper foundation is laid for the introduction of such scientifically accepted testing. EMGs have been used for many years. Muscle scan testing has been admitted in numerous courts, including this court.” 2

The evidence for sEMG is convincing, but why else should a DC seriously consider putting sEMG into practice? Because it demonstrates the subluxation and treatment progress for the patient, and acts as a motivational tool for involving them in their care. When patients see that chiropractic treatment is working for them, they will likely want to continue. The retention factor alone makes sEMG an invaluable tool for the chiropractic practice.

sEMG Benefits Overview:

• Non-invasive, as the patient receives no electricity transference
• A full sEMG test can be conducted in minutes
• Patients see their muscle tension, indicating a subluxation
• Allows the DC and patient to monitor treatment progress

1. Shambaugh P: “Changes in electrical activity in muscles resulting from chiropractic adjustment: a pilot study.” JMPT 10(6):300, 1987.

2. Houts M, Marmor L: “Proving Medical Diagnosis and Prognosis.” Matthew Bender, Times Mirror Books, 1989. 82A-20.

Julie Duck is the former editor of Chiropractic Products and a healthcare writer with more than 16 years of experience. She can be reached by e-mail at